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Do you need to address mental capacity in your probate case?

On Behalf of | Nov 22, 2022 | Probate & Estate Litigation |

When a loved one passes away and the details of his or her estate plan are made known, the results can be surprising. You might be taken aback by the fact that you’ve been left with less than what was expected, or that certain assets were left to individuals that you thought never would’ve inherited. What are you to do in these circumstances?

Addressing mental capacity in probate litigation

One of your first steps is to analyze the estate planning documents in question to determine if they were created with the requisite mental capacity. Generally speaking, an individual can create a legally valid estate planning document only if he or she understands the nature and extent of their estate, what the estate planning document does with those assets, and what his or her relationship is with descendants and those who are to inherit the estate.

It’s important to note that mere old age and mental illness is simply not enough to show that someone lacked mental capacity to create a will or another estate planning document. In fact, someone who suffers Alzheimer’s can still possess the appropriate amount of mental capacity to create important estate planning documents. This is especially true if it can be shown that the documents were created during a moment of clarity.

How do you prove lack of mental capacity?

This can be a tricky issue to address. However, there may be ways to present your case so that the estate planning document or documents in question are deemed invalid. Here are some of the steps that you can take to build your case:

  • Talk to witnesses: People who know your family member well may be able to attest to their mental capacity. This includes their ability to understand and remember information. Your own accounts can be pivotal here, too, but your statements may not be given as much weight since you have an interest in the outcome of the litigation.
  • Assess medical reports: The medical and mental health reports of the person who created the will can be key to determining whether he or she had the requisite mental capacity to create the estate planning documents in question. Of course, the individual may not be willing to release these records, but you may be able to implement legal maneuvers to gain access to those them. You also might be able to get a court order for an examination of the individual’s current mental state, although that may not be all that informative of the individual’s mental state at the time that the estate planning document was created.
  • Consider temporary issues that may affect capacity: Mental capacity is fluid. Therefore, without any notice, an individual can suddenly lose the requisite mental capacity to create legally valid estate planning documents. This means that matters other than diagnosed medical conditions may affect mental capacity. Therefore, you might find it helpful to assess whether the individual was subjected to shock, panic, medication side effects, or excessive tiredness.

Do you need help making your mental capacity arguments?

Dealing with mental capacity issues in probate court can be difficult, but the outcome of the matter can have a tremendous impact on how an estate is distributed. With that in mind, you need to craft the strongest arguments possible if you want to try to increase your chances of obtaining the outcome that you desire. We know that can be a stressful thought, but that’s why experienced legal attorneys like those at our firm stand ready to assist.