The loss of a loved one is difficult enough without questions being raised about the validity of the Last Will and Testament left by the decedent. Sometimes, however, these questions cannot be avoided and a Will contest ensues. One of the common claims in a Will contest is that the Testator lacked “testamentary capacity.” What exactly does that mean? The estate planning lawyers at Parman & Easterday can provide an overview of what is required to prove lack of testamentary capacity in an Oklahoma Will contest.
What Happens To A Will After The Death Of The Testator?
When an individual passes away, one of the first steps that must be taken is to locate the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. Once located, the person named as Executor in the Will is usually required to submit the Will to the court to initiate probate of the estate. Today, the term Personal Representative is used rather than “Executor” or “Executrix”. For now, we will use the more commonly understood term. Probate serves several important purposes:
- Ensuring the decedent’s assets are identified, located, valued, and passed down to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
- Authenticating the decedent’s Will and litigating any challenges to its authenticity.
- Notifying creditors and providing them with the opportunity to file claims against the estate.
- Ensuring all gift and estate taxes are paid.
What If Someone Wants To Contest The Will?
Most of the time the probate process is a formality. However, if questions arise about the validity of the Will, litigation often follows. These questions might be because the Will was executed under unusual circumstances, because changes were made to the Will at the last minute, or because the terms of the Will appear out of character for the Testator. Regardless of what triggers the concern about the Will being offered for probate, there are legal requirements that must be met for a Will contest to proceed. These include:
- The contestant must have “standing.” Standing refers to the right to bring the legal action, the Will contest. To have standing, you must be considered an “interested person.” This includes beneficiaries under the Will, beneficiaries under a previous Will, legal heirs of the estate, or possibly a creditor of the estate.
- You must initiate the Will contest in a timely manner. In Oklahoma, you need to initiate a Will contest within three months from the time the Will was admitted to probate.
- You must have legal grounds for contesting the Will. Being left out of the Will, or receiving less than you anticipated, is insufficient to bring a Will contest. You must be able to allege one of the following grounds upon which the Will could be declared invalid:
- There is a subsequent valid Will
- Someone exercised undue influence over the Testator
- The Will is fraudulent or is a product of fraud
- The Will is ambiguous and can be interpreted in more than one way
- The Testator lacked the requisite testamentary capacity at the time the Will was executed.
What Is Testamentary Capacity?
Testamentary capacity is an elusive concept because it differs from the capacity needed in other areas of the law, such as the capacity necessary to enter into a contract. Someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s might be found to lack the mental capacity needed to enter into a contract, yet be found to have had the testamentary capacity necessary to execute a Will at the same time. In Oklahoma, testamentary capacity requires the Testator to:
- Know the character and extent of his or her property;
- Understand his or her relationship to the selected beneficiary or beneficiaries;
- Know who his or her relatives are; and
- Understand the effect of the will or trust.
It is often more difficult than people think to prove that a Testator lacked testamentary capacity. One reason is that the focus is on the exact point in time when the Will was executed. If the Testator’s mental capacity varied over time, but there were lucid intervals, then the Testator may have had the necessary testamentary capacity when the Will was executed. Furthermore, the presumption is that a Testator had capacity, meaning a contestant must prove the Testator did not have capacity.
If you are concerned about the validity of a Will in Oklahoma, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine if you have grounds to contest the Will.
Contact Estate Planning Lawyers
For additional information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding the validity of a Will, contact the experienced estate planning lawyers at Parman & Easterday by calling 405-843-6100 or 913-385-9400 to schedule your appointment today.