What constitutes a lack of capacity for those planning an estate?

by | Apr 24, 2024 | Estate Planning

Most adults in Florida have the option of creating an estate plan. They can draft documents arranging for the support of their loved ones and describing what should happen to their property when they die. The Florida probate courts expect the personal representative taking care of someone’s estate to follow the instructions in the documents when distributing the decedent’s personal property.

Unfortunately, an estate plan can sometimes prove controversial. Family members may be upset and dissatisfied with the terms included in the document. They may want to challenge or contest the will. Doing so is not always an option. People need specific legal grounds to ask the courts to set aside testamentary documents. A lack of testamentary capacity on the part of the decedent could be a reason to contest a will.

The standard for capacity is relatively low

Those alleging that a testator lacked the cognitive ability to understand their estate plan have to provide evidence supporting their claims. Otherwise, there is a presumption that an adult likely has the necessary capacity to create documents. Only a handful of medical issues might warrant claims of a lack of capacity. Severe mental health disorders, like schizophrenia, can reduce or eliminate testamentary capacity. Acquired brain injuries can also affect someone’s cognitive capacity.

Progressive neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that cause dementia could eliminate someone’s testamentary capacity. Finally, conditions that affect someone’s consciousness vision, hearing or ability to communicate with others can also compromise their testamentary capacity. A diagnosis may not be enough to convince the courts that someone lacked capacity.

The plaintiffs pursuing a will contest likely need to demonstrate that the testator did not understand the documents, was incapable of properly comprehending their relationships and may not have appreciated the impact their actions could have on their loved ones. If there is adequate medical and personal evidence supporting the claim that someone lacked capacity, then the courts may treat the estate as though someone died without a will or may choose to uphold an older estate plan.

Gathering sufficient medical and social documentation is often the first step in successful probate litigation based on a claim that someone lacked capacity. Understanding what may justify an attempt to contest a will can benefit those with an interest in a Florida estate.


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