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What makes a person 'competent' to write a valid will?

Last week's post discussed how a family is trying to have the business decisions of an NFL owner in another state declared invalid because the owner was not "competent" to make them. Albeit a slightly differently set of facts, this story could make some residents of Saint Paul, Minnesota, and particularly those who read this blog, ask themselves what exactly makes a person "competent" to prepare a valid will that disposes of the person's property upon death.

A person who is not mentally competent to write a will cannot legally do so, and any will that this person writes could be deemed invalid, meaning that the person's property will be inherited under the terms of either state law or under a prior will.

However, the standard as to what constitutes being "competent" to make a will is pretty low. For one, in Minnesota, a person need not actually know either the value of the person's property or to whom the person wishes to bequeath it. All that is required is that the person writing the will had the capability of knowing such things.

Furthermore, a person does not have to be perfectly lucid in order to write a valid will. The person only has to have some idea of what the person owns and some idea of who might have a legal or moral claim over that property. Furthermore, a person need only remain competent long enough to make a rational decision about the person's legacy.

Will litigation oftentimes centers on the question of whether a wealthy person who has died had the requisite mental capacity to write the person's will. While overcoming the presumption that a person who wrote a will had the capacity to do so can be difficult, it is not impossible, and it may be the best legal means by which a family member can ensure that everyone gets a fair share of an inheritance.

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