A will is a legal document that names how a person’s property will be distributed after their death. In order for a will to be valid, the person must have what is called “testamentary capacity.” This means that they must understand the nature and extent of their property, and must be able to identify the people who would inherit under the will. In Texas, there are specific requirements for proving testamentary capacity in probate court. This blog post will explore those requirements and provide tips on how to prove testamentary capacity in a Texas probate court.
What is testamentary capacity?
In order to have a valid will in Texas, the person making the will (the “testator”) must have what is called “testamentary capacity.” Testamentary capacity is the mental ability to understand the nature of a will and make key decisions about a will at the time of its creation and execution.
The test for testamentary capacity is whether, at the time the will was made, the testator:
(1) knew that he or she was making a will;
(2) knew what property he or she owned; and
(3) knew who would be the natural objects of his or her bounty (usually, close family members).
If it can be shown that the testator lacked any of these mental requirements, then the will may be declared invalid.
There is a rebuttable presumption that every person has testamentary capacity. This means that unless there is evidence to the contrary, it is assumed that every person has the mental ability to make a valid will. Once evidence is presented that raises doubt about the testator’s testamentary capacity, then it becomes necessary for those challenging the validity of the will to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the testator lacked testamentary capacity.
There are many ways to go about proving that someone lacked testamentary capacity when they executed their will. The most common piece of evidence used to show lack of capacity is testimony from people who knew the testator around the time the will was made. These witnesses can testify as to whether they believe, based on their interactions with the testator, that the testator lacked the mental ability to understand the nature of a will and make key decisions about his or her property. Other types of evidence that may be used to show lack of capacity include medical records or other documentation showing that the testator was suffering from a mental illness or cognitive decline around the time the will was made.
The three elements of testamentary capacity
The three elements of testamentary capacity are:
- The testator must understand the nature and effect of making a will.
- The testator must know the extent of his or her property.
- The testator must be aware of the natural objects of his or her bounty, that is, those people who would normally be expected to inherit from him or her.
In order to prove testamentary capacity in a Texas probate court, the burden of proof is on the person contesting the will. This means that if you are questioning whether or not the deceased had testamentary capacity at the time they made their will, you will need to provide evidence to support your claim.
There are a few ways to go about proving that someone lacked testamentary capacity at the time they made their will. One way is to show that the person was suffering from a mental illness or cognitive impairment that prevented them from understanding what they were doing. Another way is to show that the person was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time they made their will. Finally, you can also try to show that the person did not have a clear understanding of their property or who their natural heirs would be.
If you are able to successfully prove that the deceased lacked testamentary capacity at the time they made their will, then their will may be declared invalid by a judge and any previous wills they may have made would become valid again.
How to prove testamentary capacity in Texas
In order to prove testamentary capacity in a Texas probate court, the person seeking to have the will admitted to probate must show that the testator (the person who made the will) was of sound mind at the time the will was executed. The burden of proof is on the person seeking to have the will admitted to probate.
There are a few different ways that one can go about proving that a testator had testamentary capacity at the time their will was executed. One way would be to present evidence that the testator had a basic understanding of what they were doing when they executed their will. This could be done through testimony from witnesses who were present when the will was executed, or from experts who can speak to the testator’s mental state at the time.
Another way to prove testamentary capacity would be to show that the testator had testamentary capacity when they last updated their will. This could be done by presenting evidence of correspondence between the testator and their attorney, or by presenting evidence that the testator had made other legal documents around the same time as their will was updated.
The best way to prove that a testator had testamentary capacity at the time their will was executed is through a combination of both types of evidence. By presenting both types of evidence, it becomes much more difficult for a court to find that the testator did not have testamentary capacity at the time their will was executed.
The consequences of not having testamentary capacity
It is important to have testamentary capacity in order to make a valid will in Texas. If you do not have testamentary capacity, your will may be found invalid and your estate will be distributed according to the intestacy laws. This can have serious consequences for your loved ones, as they may not receive the inheritance that you intended for them.
To have testamentary capacity, you must be of sound mind and body. This means that you must be able to understand the nature and consequences of making a will. You must also be able to remember the people who are important to you and what you want them to inherit from your estate. If you cannot meet these requirements, you may be found to lack testamentary capacity.
If your will is found to be invalid because you lacked testamentary capacity, your estate will be distributed according to the intestacy laws. This means that your property will go to your closest relatives, even if you did not intend for them to inherit it. For example, if you are survived by a spouse and children, your spouse will inherit all of your property if you die without a valid will.
This can have serious consequences for your loved ones, as they may not receive the inheritance that you intended for them. It is therefore very important to make sure that you have testamentary capacity before making a will in Texas.
Texas Case Law
In order to prove testamentary capacity in a Texas probate court, the petitioner must show that the testator (the person who made the will) was of sound mind at the time the will was executed. The burden of proof is on the petitioner, and the standard of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence
There are a few factors that courts will consider when determining whether or not a testator had testamentary capacity. These include:
- Whether the testator knew and understood the nature and extent of their property
- Whether the testator knew and understood the natural objects of their bounty (typically, their relatives and close friends)
- Whether the testator knew and understood the terms of their will
- Whether the testator was under any undue influence or duress when executing their will
If you can show that the testator possessed all of these faculties at the time they executed their will, then you should have no trouble proving testamentary capacity in court.
Long v. Long (2006)
Long v. Long, 196 S.W.3d 460 (Tex. App. — Dallas 2006, no pet.)
Facts & Procedural History
Carol and Ray Long (Decedent) were married in 2000. After Carol discovered Decedent and Appellee were having an affair, Carol and Decedent came to an agreement regarding the terms of their divorce. Carol and Decedent agreed that Decedent would designate Carol as his beneficiary on “all current financial accounts and life insurance policies through May 2000,” and that their three adult sons would also be beneficiaries. The year after the divorce, Decedent received a cancer diagnosis and married Sheila J. Long (Appellee). Not long afterwards, Decedent drafted a new will naming Appellee as his Independent Executrix. Decedent left two insurance policies and his retirement account to Appellee. Appellee filed an application to probate Decedent’s will. After a trial, the probate court admitted the will to probate. Decedent’s ex-wife, Carol, and their three sons appealed (collectively, Appellants). Appellants alleged that the will was invalid and improperly conflicted with a prior divorce decree.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the probate court. The Court held that the evidence was both legally and factually sufficient to support a finding that: (1) the Decedent had testamentary capacity at the time of the will’s execution; and (2) the decedent was not unduly influenced when he executed his will. The Court stated that Appellants had overlooked the evidence provided by Appellee (mainly witness testimony) and relied solely on Decedent’s medical records to support their claims that Decedent lacked testamentary capacity because of the effects of his illness. The Court determined that neither Appellants’ evidence regarding testamentary capacity nor their evidence regarding undue influence was sufficient. Appellee’s evidence showed that, at the time of the subsequent will’s creation: (1) Decedent had not been isolated from others; and (2) that Decedent was not on good terms with his sons. The Court lastly found that Carol’s claim on the divorce decree was barred by the two-year statute of limitations.
What evidence can be used to show that a testator has testamentary capacity?
Evidence showing that the testator had testamentary capacity on the day of the will’s execution can be used, as well as evidence of the testator’s state of mind at other times (so long as the evidence shows that a condition affecting his testamentary capacity was persistent and likely was present at the time the will was executed).
What is required to prove undue influence?
To justify setting aside a will because of undue influence, a contestant must prove that an influence existed that overpowered the testator’s mind at the time he executed the instrument and caused the testator to execute a will he would not have executed without such an influence.
Long v. Long shows that a will has been properly admitted to probate where sufficient evidence has been provided to support a finding that: (1) a testator had adequate testamentary capacity; and (2) did not experience undue influence.
If you are facing a probate proceeding in Texas and need to prove the decedent’s testamentary capacity, there are a few things you can do. First, get a copy of the decedent’s will and any other relevant documents. Next, gather evidence from witnesses who knew the decedent well and can attest to his or her mental state at the time the will was executed. Finally, have a medical expert review the decedent’s records and give an opinion on his or her mental state at the time of death. With this evidence, you should be able to prove to the court that the decedent had testamentary capacity and that his or her will is valid.
Do you need an Experienced Probate Attorney to help?
If you are the executor or administrator of an estate, you may be wondering if you need to hire a probate attorney. The answer to this question depends on a few factors, including the size and complexity of the estate, the state in which the estate is being probated, and your own personal knowledge of probate law. Most courts in Texas require that an executor be represented by an attorney.
There are a number of reasons for this. For example, if the estate is large or complex, an experienced probate attorney can help you navigate the legal process and ensure that all deadlines are met. Additionally, if the estate is being probated in a state other than where the decedent resided, a local attorney can be extremely helpful in understanding the specific requirements of that state’s probate process.
Finally, even if the estate is small and simple, you may still benefit from hiring a probate attorney if you do not have experience with handling legal matters. An experienced attorney can provide peace of mind and ensure that the entire process goes smoothly.
Call us today for a FREE attorney consultation. (469) 895-4333.