At Bundren Law Firm, we help clients who need assistance during the probate of a loved one’s estate. Ideally, this process goes smoothly and without necessary disputes – but not every case is so fortunate.
Sometimes relatives of the deceased find themselves in a position where they need to defend their loved one’s will or even make a claim themselves when they believe it was improperly created. As it turns out, one of the most common reasons why family members contest a will is because there’s doubt about the deceased’s testamentary capacity.
What Is Testamentary Capacity?
When someone is creating a will or any other estate planning document, several legal requirements must be met for these documents to have legitimacy during probate when that person dies.
One of these legal requirements is testamentary capacity, which refers to an individual’s ability to understand: 1) the value of the property in their estate, 2) who would inherit that property, and 3) the legal consequences of signing any estate planning documents that would make such arrangements.
In other words, someone must have the mental capability and clarity of mind to understand the consequences of a will or another estate planning document presented to them before signing.
For example: Someone who is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may lack testamentary capacity to sign a new will because they may not fully understand what they’re signing, why they’re signing it, and/or how it affects their estate.
What Happens If Testamentary Capacity Is Disputed?
Some of the most common challenges to a will that we see in probate courts are those that concern the testator’s (will-maker’s) testamentary capacity at the time they signed their will. When someone brings one of these claims forward, they might have concerns that someone took advantage of a relative’s diminished mental state to secure a will that the relative would have never otherwise signed.
In Oklahoma, the following can be considered when determining the testator’s testamentary capacity:
- Evidence that the testator suffered from a diminished mental state before and after the will was executed.
- The testator’s physical appearance at the time of the signing
- The testator’s conduct and actions
- The testator’s habits
- The testator’s conversation
What Happens to a Will When the Decedent Lacked Testamentary Capacity?
If sufficient evidence is available to prove that a testator lacked testamentary capacity before and after they signed their will, the court may invalidate the will in question and an earlier will can take its place.
What If There Is No Other Will?
If no other legal will is available, probate will proceed according to the state’s intestate laws. This means that the statutes that exist to divide someone’s estate when they die without a will shall apply to an estate with an invalidated will.