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To be legally valid, a will must be signed by the testator, or maker of the will, in front of two witnesses. A will must also be signed by the testator with “a standard of sound mind”, which means that at the time the will was created, the testator was of sound mind and knew the natural and probable consequences of the will, and must be able to appreciate the nature and extent of the property he or she possesses. This probate case gives information on the standard of sound mind to execute a valid will.

Probate Terminology

Testamentary

A testamentary will is a traditional written will, aka last will and testament. It is a legal document that is used to transfer holdings in an estate to other people or organizations after the death of the person who makes the will.

Testator

The testator of a will is the person that makes/writes the will with a signature.

Testatrix

A woman who is a testator

Probate Case

Facts and Procedural History

Facts: Testatrix (Irene Bracewell) suffered from poor health during the latter portion of her life. Her medical records show that, in the 1970s, she battled nervousness, anxiety, hypertension, hypothyroidism, and degenerative joint disease. In 1984, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Irene was prescribed pain medicine and tranquilizers for her anxiety and Parkinson’s disease. Irene’s medical records reflect that she had a history of abusing her medications. In March of 1989, Irene discovered that W.T. had executed a will which made their daughter the sole heir of their estate and revoked a previous power of attorney which gave Charles the ability to control Irene’s and W.T’s affairs.

Because of this on August 17, 1989, Irene, unbeknownst to W.T., executed another will, which she gave to Charles for safekeeping. In 1994, due to declining health Irene was moved into a nursing home and died on May 9, 1995. Shortly after Irene’s death, W.T. filed suit against Charles seeking to set aside the 1989 will and probate the 1975 joint will.

“Holding photocopy of joint will was properly admitted for probate”

Bracewell v. Bracewell, 20 S.W.3d 14 (Tex.App. 2000)

Procedure: The District Court of Grimes County Texas, granted Appellee’s, testatrix’s husband (W.T. Bracewell), application to probate testatrix’s past will that was filed by Appellee in 1975. Appellant, testatrix’s son (Charles L. Bracewell), seeks to appeal a jury’s determination that the testatrix lacked the required testamentary capacity to execute a will testatrix made in 1989.

Issue

Did testatrix (Irene) possess the required testamentary capacity to execute the 1989 will?

At trial, W.T. testified that after Irene was hospitalized and received her diagnosis in 1984, she was “sick a lot” from that time on. W.T. stated that, following her diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease, Irene quit driving a car, quit going to church, and would not entertain company. W.T.’s testimony was supported by 4 other witnesses including two of their daughters, and two of Irene’s doctors. One doctor testified that Irene experienced “periods of incoherence” as early as 1987, and that she was incoherent “ninety-nine percent” of the time that she visited him for treatment. Outcome: District Court’s ruling is affirmed. The evidence testatrix’s son presented was legally and factually insufficient to prove that testatrix had testamentary capacity to execute a will in 1989.

Takeaways

A Testator or Testatrix must have “sound mind” at the time the written will is created/executed. When you write your will, it is important that you are of sound mind. If you are not, your will may not be found to be valid. “Sound mind” means having testamentary capacity. Testamentary capacity requires that the testator, at the time the will is made, have sufficient mental ability to understand he is making a will, the effect of making the will, and the general nature and extent of their property. Medical records, witness testimony, and departures from normal habits may be used to show a Testator or Testatrix lacks testamentary capacity.

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See Also:

How do you prove someone is a sound mind?

If you are the executor of a person’s estate, you will need to prove that the deceased was of sound mind when they made their will.

Will being of sound mind?

In order to be a valid will, the testator must be of sound mind. “Sound mind” refers to the mental capacity of an individual to understand the nature and effect of the will.

How do you make sure an executed will?

A person who executes a will must be of sound mind. This means that the person must be of a sound state of mind and capable of understanding the nature and effect of the will.

Which of the following is a requirement of a valid will?

In order to be valid, a will must be in writing and signed by the testator. The testator must be of sound mind.

What are the requirements for a will to be valid?

To be valid under Texas law, a will must be in writing and signed by the testator (the person who makes the will) in the presence of at least two witnesses who must sign the will in the presence of the testator.

What makes a will legal?

To be legally valid, a will must be in writing, signed by (signature of) the testator and attested by two witnesses.

What happens if a will is signed but not witnessed?

If a will is signed by the testator but not witnessed, there is a risk that the will may be challenged.

What are the three conditions to make a will valid?

There are three conditions to make a will valid: you must be of sound mind, you must be over the age of 18, and you must have the intention to dispose of your assets.

What would make a will invalid?

A will may be invalid for a number of reasons. In Texas law, a will is only valid if the maker of the will has what is called ‘testamentary capacity’ at the time of making the will.

What voids a will?

A will is void if it is not executed with testamentary capacity, if it was not signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses, or if the witnesses were not competent to witness the will.

What Is a Holographic Will?

A holographic will is a handwritten and witnessed will. The document must be entirely in the handwriting of the testator (the person making the will). The testator must also sign the will in the presence of two witnesses.

Testamentary capacity

A person must have testamentary capacity to make a valid will.

Should a Will be Dated?

In order for a Will to be valid, the maker must have the legal capacity to make a Will (i.e. must be of sound mind) at the time the Will is made.

Contested Wills

If the deceased had a validly executed will, the will is presumptively valid and will be administered according to its terms. However, that presumption may be overcome on a showing that the deceased did not have a “standard of sound mind” at the time the will was executed.

Signing a Will

A will must be signed by a testator who has testamentary capacity, that is, he or she is of sound mind and memory.

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