A valid will represents a person's wishes for what is to be done with their property after their death. Since the person is not around anymore to clarify those wishes, Minnesota courts try to stick as close as possible to what the will specifies. However, first, the court must know that the will is valid. There are a number of requirements that go into making a will, but perhaps the most important is that the person making the will, known as the testator, was competent to make a valid will at the time it was executed.
In one recent case, a number of parties are arguing that a wealthy woman's will is invalid. They claim that she lacked the mental capacity to make a will, and that a police officer unduly influenced her at the time the will was executed.
The woman died at age 94 last December, leaving real estate, a car and investments worth a total of about $1.8 million to the police officer. Family members and others argue that the police officer and his associates manipulated the woman, who was suffering from dementia, into revising her will to enrich themselves, at the expense of her previously named beneficiaries.
An earlier will left $25,000 to one of the woman's grandsons, who is disabled, the later will cuts him out. The later will also reduced the bequests the woman made to two hospitals by about 90 percent. The police officer and his associates deny any wrongdoing.
To have the capacity to make a valid will, the testator must be age 18 or over, must understand the extent and value of the property, the people for whom he or she is expected to provide, who the actual heirs and beneficiaries of the will are going to be, what a will is and how these elements relate to each other. This is called testamentary capacity, and a will executed by a testator who did not have testamentary capacity is invalid and not enforceable.
Undue influence is a concept related to capacity. When a vulnerable testator is manipulated by another person into making or changing a will, courts may rule that the will does not reflect the testator's true wishes, and, therefore, it is unenforceable.
Minnesota families who fear that their loved ones are being financially exploited should seek help as soon as possible. In addition, when there is a disagreement over inheritance, they should get help understanding their legal options.
Source: Seacoast Online, "Five lawyers now disputing wealthy woman's estate," Elizabeth Dinan, June 13, 2013.