Dying farmer 'unfit' to sign estate over to nephew in will, court told
A farmer's signature on a will five days before he died of cancer in his hospital bed was "an extraordinary squiggle" made when he was too ill to do so, the High Court heard.
Bachelor Michael Buckley (76), from Caim near Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, was not of sound mind when he left his entire 54-acre farm and stock, estimated to be worth between €500,000 to €1m, to his nephew Richard Cooper Jr, it is claimed by four of the deceased's siblings.
Joseph, William and Elizabeth Buckley and Teresa Doyle want the court to condemn the will. Mr Cooper Jr, who built his family home on a site on the farm sold to him by his uncle, is opposing the action.
He also denies his uncle was acting under undue influence and lacked mental capacity to make the will. Mr Buckley died on March 20, 2011, from colon cancer. He had been in extremely poor health for a number of months before he was diagnosed.
He underwent a major operation which did not improve his condition, was suffering from sepsis, and receiving palliative care, the court heard.
About a week before he died, local solicitor John Mernagh was asked by Ms Sheila Cooper to go to the hospital to take his will.
But Mr Mernagh found him unresponsive and not engaging in a way that suggested he was capable of making a will, Michael Counihan SC, for the Buckley siblings said.
A few days later, on March 15, Ms Cooper's husband Dick asked another local firm to attend him to take a will urgently. The solicitor, Jason Dunne, told the court he found Mr Buckley was alert and coherent. He knew he was making a will and who he wanted his estate to go to, Mr Dunne said.
Mr Dunne recorded that Mr Buckley chatted lucidly during the visit, including about the new Government and an earthquake in Japan. The solicitor told the court however he was quite weak and he (Dunne) had to hold Mr Buckley's elbow as he signed the will.
"He signed it and it is entirely his own signature, not a great one - he could have put an X but he managed his own signature," Mr Dunne said. The solicitor also said he himself could also have signed it on Mr Buckley's behalf but it was not necessary.
He told Mr Cooper Jr's counsel, Philip Sheahan, it was not unusual for a farmer to leave everything to one person because they do not want to see the farm broken up.
Cross-examined by Mr Counihan, for the Buckley siblings, Mr Dunne said it was not necessary to ask Mr Buckley's doctors about his capacity once he (Dunne) had no doubt himself about it having spoken to the client.
Asked about the view of the other solicitor, Mr Mernagh, a few days earlier that he was "utterly unfit", Mr Dunne said Mr Buckley was in an entirely different condition on the day he saw him. He agreed the signature on the will, described by Mr Counihan as an "extraordinary squiggle", showed a "shocking disintegration" with signatures Mr Buckley had written before his death. The case continues.
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