It’s easy to make a mistake, as the old saying goes. However, it’s not so easy for a mistake to invalidate a Will – in fact, it’s very difficult.

In the case of Ball v Ball (2017), the High Court ruled that, for a claim to succeed on this ground, the mistake on its own was not enough to invalidate a Will.  It can, however, be used as a base to show that a person making their Will was either suffering from an insane delusion or memory failure sufficient to make that person incapable of making a Will. 

The case in question centred on a challenge by three estranged children of Barbara Ball to her Will on the grounds of testamentary capacity and undue influence. The Will made provision for Mrs Ball’s estate to be left, as her husband had pre-deceased her, to her remaining eight children and grandson, so excluding the three estranged children.

In 1991, a year before Mrs Ball signed her Will, the three children became estranged from the family after making allegations of sexual abuse against their father; to some allegations he had pleaded guilty. Evidence presented at the trial suggested that, at the time the Will was prepared, Mrs Ball had accepted that, although there was some truth to the abuse claims, they were exaggerated. 

The estranged children’s contention was that Mrs Ball’s Will was the direct result of a serious misapprehension or mistake – in this case, that her husband was innocent. On this ground, they claimed Mrs Ball lacked capacity to make her Will. If this was not the case, they claimed that their mother had been subject to undue influence by their father in making the Will.

The challenge to the Will was dismissed on both grounds as the mistake, on its own, was not enough. The Court found that there had been no mistake on the facts of the case and there was no evidence of coercion by Mr Ball against his wife.  Even if Mrs Ball had been mistaken as to his innocence, the Court decided on the evidence, that the mistake was not enough to show she lacked the capacity to make her Will.

A claim was also made by the three estranged children for reasonable financial provision from the estate pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. In this instance, the court considered the Supreme Court Court’s judgment in Ilott v The Blue Cross [2017] and held that, although they were eligible to make a claim under this Act, it did not justify an award, as Mrs Ball had not created a moral obligation towards them, no other special circumstances existed and their claim was no better that of the Defendants.