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. The Long v. Long, 196 S.W.3d 460 (Tex. App. — Dallas 2006, no pet.) case explores those requirements.
Facts & Procedural History
The decedent and his ex-wife were married in 2000. Not long after, the ex-wife discovered the decedent and the appellee were having an affair, and as a result divorced. An agreement was made that the decedent would designate his ex-wife 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, the decedent received a cancer diagnosis and married the appellee. Not long afterwards, he drafted a new will naming the appellee as his Independent Executrix. Decedent left two insurance policies and his retirement account to the appellee. After his death, she filed an application to probate the decedent’s will. When the probate process began, the decedent’s ex-wife and their three sons appealed (collectively, appellants). The appellants alleged that the will was invalid on the grounds that the decedent lacked testamentary capacity and conflicted with a prior divorce decree.
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 three elements for 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.
If it can be shown that the testator lacked any of these mental requirements, then the will may be declared invalid.
Proving Lack of Testamentary Capacity
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. Because of this, the burden of proof is on the person contesting the will.
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.
As it relates to the case, the appellants testified that the decedent’s medication and chemotherapy made him liable to be under undue influence. However, witnesses and medical records brought forth by the appellee proved that he the decedent was of conscious mind at the time of his treatment. If it was proven that the decedent lacked testamentary capacity at the time he made the will, then the will may be declared invalid by a judge and any previous wills he may have made would become valid again.
How to Prove Testamentary Capacity in Texas
Much like the process to prove a decedent’s lack of testamentary capacity, 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 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.
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.
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.
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