Siblings claim farmer ‘lacked capacity’ when will signed in hospital

Michael Buckley made ‘extraordinary squiggle’ on document which left estate to nephew, court told

A farmer’s signature on a will made five days before he died of cancer in hospital was an ‘extraordinary squiggle’ made when he was too ill to do so, the High Court has been told.

A farmer’s signature on a will made five days before he died of cancer in hospital was an ‘extraordinary squiggle’ made when he was too ill to do so, the High Court has been told.

 

A farmer’s signature on a will made five days before he died of cancer in hospital was an “extraordinary squiggle” made when he was too ill to do so, the High Court has been told.

Michael Buckley (76), a bachelor from Caim, 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 and €1 million, to his nephew Richard Cooper Jnr, four of Mr Buckley’s siblings claim.

Joseph, William and Elizabeth Buckley and Teresa Doyle want the court to condemn the will.

Mr Cooper, who built his family home on a site on the farm sold to him by his uncle, opposes the action. He denies his uncle was acting under undue influence and lacked mental capacity to make the will.

Mr Buckley died on March 20th, 2011, from colon cancer and had been in 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 was receiving palliative care, the court heard.

About a week before he died, local solicitor John Mernagh was asked by Sheila Cooper, mother of Mr Cooper, to go to the hospital to take his will.

Unresponsive

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 siblings, said.

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

Jason Dunne, a solicitor who has written guidebooks for people making wills, told the court, when he attended on March 15th, he found Mr Buckley was “perfectly clear”, alert and coherent, knew he was making a will and who he wanted his estate to go to.

Mr Dunne recorded the next day in typewritten notes, from his handwritten note taken on the day, that Mr Buckley chatted lucidly during the visit including about the new government and an earthquake in Japan.

He said Mr Buckley was quite weak and he held his elbow as he signed the will while lying propped up in bed. It was “entirely his own signature” while not a great one, he said. The solicitor said he could have signed the will on Mr Buckley’s behalf but that was not necessary.

Mr Dunne told Mr Cooper’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.

Different condition

Asked about Mr Mernagh’s view a few days earlier that Mr Buckley was “utterly unfit”, Mr Dunne said the deceased was in an entirely different condition and capable of giving instructions on the day he saw him.

He disagreed that he needed to have known more about who else might want to benefit and who was taking care of Mr Buckley at home. He disagreed that because Mr Buckley described his holding as 44 rather than 54 acres, this showed he was confused.

He agreed the signature, described by Mr Counihan as an “extraordinary squiggle”, showed a “shocking disintegration” when compared 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 Mr Buckley was on and was not aware at the time he was on morphine.

He had no doubt about his capacity, he said.

The case continues.