The loss of a loved one is difficult enough without additional circumstances that raise questions about the validity of the Last Will and Testament left by the decedent. Sometimes, however, those questions cannot be avoided, and a Will contest ensues. One of the most common claims in a Will contest is that the Testator lacked “testamentary capacity.” The Coral Gables probate attorneys at Stivers Law discuss what is required to prove lack of testamentary capacity in a Florida Will contest.
What Happens to a Will after the Death of the Testator?
When an individual passes away, one of the first practical steps that must be taken is to locate the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, if one exists. Once located, the individual named as the Executor in the Will is typically required to submit that Will to the appropriate court to initiate the probate of the estate. Probate serves several important purposes, including:
- Ensuring that the decedent’s assets are identified, located, valued, and eventually passed down to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
- Authenticating the decedent’s Will and litigating any challenges to its authenticity.
- Notifying creditors and providing them with the opportunity to file a claim against the estate.
- Ensuring that all gift and estate taxes are paid.
What If Someone Wants to Contest the Will?
Most of the time the probate process is more of a formality; however, when questions arise about the validity of the Will probate litigation often follows. Those questions might stem from the fact that the Will was executed under unusual circumstances, because changes were made to a Will at the last minute, or because the terms of the Will appear out of character for the Testator. Regardless of what triggers the concern about the Will submitted to probate, there are several legal requirements that must be met for a Will contest to proceed, including alleging legal grounds on which the Will could be declared invalid. In Florida, those grounds include:
- Lack of proper formalities
- Lack of testamentary capacity
- Undue influence
- Insane delusion
What Is Testamentary Capacity?
Testamentary capacity differs from the capacity needed in other areas of the law, such as the capacity necessary to enter into a contract. For example, someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s might be found to lack the mental capacity needed to enter into a contract yet be found to have had the testamentary capacity necessary to execute his/her Will at the same time the Will was executed. Florida courts have defined testamentary capacity as the ability to mentally understand:
- The nature and extent of the property to be disposed of
- The testator’s relation to those who would naturally claim a substantial benefit from his will
- A general understanding of the practical effect of the will as executed.”2
It is often more difficult than people think to prove that a Testator lacked testamentary capacity. One reason it that the focus in on the exact point in time when the Will was executed. If the Testator’s mental capacity varied over time, but he/she has lucid intervals, then the Testator may be declared to have had the necessary testamentary capacity if the Will was executed during a lucid period. Furthermore, the presumption is that a Testator did have the requisite capacity, meaning that a contestant must prove that the Testator did not have the necessary capacity. Always consult with an experienced probate attorney if you believe you have grounds to pursue a Will contest based on lack of testamentary capacity.
Contact Coral Gables Probate Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE webinar. If you have additional questions or concerns about proving lack of testamentary capacity in a Florida Will contest, contact the experienced Coral Gables probate attorneys at Stivers Law by calling (305) 456-3255 to schedule an appointment.
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