When can people contest a will due to a lack of capacity?

On Behalf of | Mar 7, 2024 | Probate |

In Alabama, the probate process either follows specific rules set by state law or the guidelines provided by the decedent in their estate planning documents. Someone’s will can name numerous people as beneficiaries and can establish a clear expectation for certain resources to pass to specific individuals.

Someone’s will is therefore crucial to the estate administration process. The instructions someone provides regarding the distribution of their assets can inform the entire process. Families typically appreciate the effort that testators invest to create estate planning documents.

However, sometimes people have questions about the mental state of the testator. One of the reasons that people contest wills in Alabama is the claim that the testator may have lacked testamentary capacity when they drafted and signed their documents. When can family members reasonably claim that a will is invalid due to someone’s lack of testamentary capacity?

Clear evidence is necessary for will contests

Simply being of advanced age is not enough to strip someone of the legal right to control the descent of their property after they die. In Alabama, both state statutes and key court precedents establish an assumption that most adults have testamentary capacity. The burden of proof falls to the plaintiff challenging the validity of someone’s will in probate court.

To establish that someone lacked the legal capacity to draft valid documents, plaintiffs need medical evidence, financial records or witness statements. They need to prove that the testator’s medical challenges or age-related cognitive decline prevented them from understanding the documents or the impact they could have on others.

Testamentary capacity involves an understanding of one’s current relationships. The testator typically also needs to comprehend what assets they own. They need to understand the contents of the estate planning paperwork and the potential impact those documents might have on their beneficiaries. Proving that someone experienced such profound cognitive decline that they could not remember what property they owned or the names of their family members could convince the courts that the testator lacked the necessary testamentary capacity at the time when they drafted their will.

Will contests can be complex legal matters. Reviewing the issues surrounding a particular estate plan with a skilled legal team can help people evaluate whether they meet the necessary standards to initiate probate litigation.