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How to challenge mental capacity in estate litigation

On Behalf of | Sep 27, 2023 | Probate & Estate Litigation |

Finding out that your loved one’s estate plan left assets to those you didn’t expect, or that it left less to you than you anticipated, can be shocking. It can also send up red flags that something went horribly wrong during the estate planning process.

It could be that your loved one was unduly influenced or coerced to create the estate plan that’s in place, or there may be revised versions of their estate plan that are hidden from your view and the court.

While these are certainly issues that you’ll want to investigate, there’s another matter that may play a central role in your case: mental capacity.

Why mental capacity matters

Without the requisite mental capacity, your loved one couldn’t have created a legally valid estate plan. Therefore, when considering whether the proper mental capacity existed when the estate plan’s documents were created, the court will analyze the following factors:

  • Whether the individual understood the nature of their actions when signing estate planning documents.
  • Whether they understood the nature and extent of their assets.
  • Whether the individual knew how their assets would be distributed in accordance with the documentation that they signed.
  • Whether they understood their relationships with those to whom they left their assets.

These considerations are meant to protect those who don’t understand what is happening during the estate planning process, thereby protecting their loved ones from unfair and unintended asset distribution.

Who is at risk of lack of proper mental capacity?

Almost anyone can be found to lack the mental capacity necessary to create relevant estate planning documents. However, those most at risk include those who have:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia
  • A brain injury
  • Cognitive delays
  • Visual and hearing impairment
  • Other mental health conditions

Remember, the specific facts matter here. Even someone who has Alzheimer’s can be found to be mentally competent to create an estate planning document if they sign off on it when they’re in a period of lucidity. So, if you’re worried about mental competency in your case, then you’ll want to scrutinize the circumstances leading up to your loved one’s signing of relevant estate planning documents.

What to do if you suspect a lack of mental capacity

If you think that your loved one lacked the mental capacity necessary to sign off on important estate planning documents, then now is the time to act. Here are the steps that you’ll need to take:

  • Gather clear evidence showing a lack of necessary mental capacity.
  • File a petition in probate court.
  • Provide notice to all relevant parties.
  • Prepare witnesses who will testify at a hearing on the matter.
  • Attend the hearing and present the strongest evidence possible.

Since you might be going up against another party who wants the court to find the estate planning documents in question to be legally valid, you’ll also want to find ways to attack their position. This might require you to secure an expert who can testify as to your loved one’s mental condition and how it affected their ability to accurately comprehend the circumstances before them when they finalized their estate plan.

Are you ready to protect your interests?

If so, then now is the time to take the legal action necessary to protect your interests and what you believe your loved one intended for the future of their estate. We know probate litigation can be stressful, but it’s certainly not one that you have to face on your own. Therefore, if you’re ready to move forward with your case, then please consider wrapping yourself in the support and advocacy you need to increase your chances of being successful with your case.