Farmer's signature was 'extraordinary squiggle' contested will case hears

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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 has 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 junior, 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 junior, 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, not eating and losing a lot of weight.  

He underwent a major operation which did not improve his condition, was suffering from sepsis, and was receiving palliative care, the court heard.

About a week before he died, local solicitor John Mernagh was asked by 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.  

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Mr Mernagh left and a few days later, on March 15, Mrs Cooper's husband Dick asked another local firm to attend him to take a will urgently.

Solicitor, Jason Dunne, who has written guidebooks for people making wills, told the court when he attended on March 15, he found Mr Buckley was "perfectly clear", 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 the next day in typewritten notes, from his contemporaneous handwritten attendance note taken on the day, that Mr Buckley chatted lucidly during the visit including about the new government and an earthquake in Japan.

Mr Dunne told the court however he was quite weak and he (Dunne) had to hold Mr Buckley's elbow as he signed the will while lying propped up on a pillow in bed. 

"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 junior'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.  He had no suspicion or doubt Mr Buckley was capable of giving clear instructions.

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 and capable of giving instructions on the day he saw him.

He did not know whether "someone had been in" with Mr Buckley in the days between when Mr Mernagh attended and when he (Dunne) went to the hospital.

He disagreed it was necessary for him to have known more about who else might want to benefit or that it was necessary for him to know who was taking care of him at home.

He disagreed that because Mr Buckley described his holding as 44 acres rather than 54 acres, this showed he was confused.

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 in the months and years before his death. 

Mr Dunne said he did not enquire as to what drugs he was on either from medical staff or Mr Buckley himself.  He was not aware at the time he was on morphine.

However, he had no doubt about his capacity. 

The case continues before Mr Justice Charles Meenan.

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