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Banks v Goodfellow: Understanding the Landmark Case in Testamentary Capacity

View profile for Richard Howells
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Banks v Goodfellow is a landmark legal case that set a precedent in defining the standard for testamentary capacity, which refers to the mental capacity required to make a valid will. This case, established in 1870, remains a cornerstone in the legal assessment of a person’s mental capacity when creating a will.

Case Background

The case of Banks v Goodfellow involved a legal challenge to the validity of the will of John Banks. The will, made in 1867, bequeathed his estate to his nieces and nephew. Following Banks’ death, his mental capacity at the time of making the will was questioned, leading to a legal dispute.

Key Ruling

The court established the test for testamentary capacity, stating that a person making a will must:

  1. Understand the nature and effect of making a will
  2. Comprehend the extent of the property they are disposing of
  3. Be aware of those who might have a claim to their property (the moral claims of potential beneficiaries)


Banks v Goodfellow is crucial in the field of wills and probate law as it provides a clear guideline for evaluating an individual’s mental capacity when creating a will. This legal standard helps prevent disputes regarding the validity of wills and ensures that the testator’s wishes are respected when distributing their estate.

Modern Application

The principles established in Banks v Goodfellow continue to be fundamental in modern legal practice. Courts often refer to this case law when determining whether a testator had the requisite mental capacity to create a valid will.


Banks v Goodfellow remains a cornerstone case, guiding the assessment of testamentary capacity. Its enduring impact lies in providing a clear and comprehensive test to determine the mental capacity required for creating a will. This landmark case serves as a foundation for safeguarding the wishes and intentions of individuals when distributing their estates.

If you have any queries or concerns, contact our Inheritance and Trusts Disputes team on or 03333 208644.