Not everyone who creates a last will is in a legal position to do so. Sometimes, individuals may attempt to create or alter a last will when there is reason to worry about their mental state. As people age, their cognitive function can decline. It is also possible for those with serious medical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease to reach a point where they can no longer make rational and legally viable decisions on their own.
The courts refer to mental health issues that impact someone’s ability to act on their own behalf as a lack of testamentary capacity. If your loved one created or changed their last will after a diagnosis with a serious medical condition or during a period of significant cognitive decline, you may have the option of challenging the will and asking the courts to review the circumstances and revert the will to a previous version.
In some situations, if the courts determine that someone did not have the ability to make legal decisions on their own at the time that they created or change their will, the probate courts may agree with a challenge claiming that those changes or terms are not official and legally viable.
Some people will challenge a last will or estate plan simply because they are unhappy with the terms. It can be difficult for the probate courts to determine which complaints and challenges are valid and which ones are frivolous and primarily inspired by self-interest.
To extend the highest degree of autonomy and authority to those who leave behind their last will, the probate courts will consider any challenge on a case-by-case basis. Even if your loved one had a diagnosis that indicates a potentially compromised mental state, that diagnosis alone will not lead the courts to invalidate a last will.
Instead, the courts will expect a challenger to present evidence that the testator suffered cognitive impairment that would have affected their ability to consent to the changes or new will at the time of its creation.
One of the simplest ways to demonstrate that mental health issues or cognitive decline impacted somebody’s estate plan is to produce a previous version of the last will or other forms of documentation that confirm that your loved one had specific wishes for the distribution of their assets that the new will does not reflect.
You may also be able to show that the individuals who now benefit from the revised terms of the last will exerted their position in the life of the testator to influence their decisions. Undue influence is a separate reason to challenge an estate plan than a lack of testamentary capacity, but overlap between the two issues is common.
Familiarizing yourself with the legal reasons that you can challenge a last will and the potential risks of such a challenge and help you make a more informed decision that protects both your interest in the estate and the wishes of your loved one who has died.