Hughes v Pritchard and others [2021] EWHC 1580 (Ch)

Alex Troup

15 June 2021

The High Court has recently handed down judgment in the case of Hughes v Pritchard and others [2021] EWHC 1580 (Ch) following a hybrid trial conducted in person and remotely, with some of the evidence being given in Welsh. Head of Wills & Trusts team, Alex Troup, instructed by Hugh James, acted for the successful second and third defendants.

The case involved the last will of Evan Hughes, a farmer based in Anglesey, purportedly made shortly after the death of his son, Elfed. Evan had promised to leave his farmland to Elfed, and had made a number of wills to that effect, in reliance upon which Elfed worked long hours on the farm to the detriment of his family life. After Elfed died, Evan, who by then was suffering with moderate to severe dementia, purportedly made the disputed will in which he left a 58 acre plot of farmland known as Yr Efail to one of his other sons, Gareth, in breach of his promises to Elfed. The court held that the disputed will was invalid because Evan lacked testamentary capacity. The court further held that even if the disputed will had been valid, Yr Efail would nevertheless be subject to a proprietary estoppel claim and should be transferred outright to Elfed’s estate.

The case is noteworthy for the fact that the disputed will was drafted by a specialist solicitor who followed the so-called Golden Rule by arranging for Evan’s capacity to be assessed by a doctor who also acted as one of the witnesses to the will. The parties also instructed a single joint expert, Dr Series, who took the view that Evan had testamentary capacity. Despite this, the court took a different view, primarily because the doctor who had assessed Evan’s capacity admitted in his evidence at trial that he had not appreciated the significant difference between the disputed will and Evan’s previous wills.