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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Mental capacity and will challenges

One of the basic requirements for a Minnesota will is that the testator be of sound mind. A large part of probate litigation consists of defining the limits of capacity necessary for making a valid estate plan.

The legal baseline for testamentary capacity in Minnesota requires the testator to understand the nature of his or her property, know who his or her family members and loved ones are, and be able to make rational judgments on these issues. However, determining these factors can be a complex legal process.

Lack of capacity in other areas does not prove testamentary incapacity

A previous legal ruling about the testator's mental capacity for other purposes may be relevant. However, in itself, such a ruling may not suffice to show lack of capacity. For example, legal capacity to contract needs proof of a higher level of mental function than testamentary capacity. So if a prior contract was invalidated by lack of capacity, this may not be sufficient proof of incapacity in the context of a valid will.

Mental function can vary in level

An important principle is that the testator does not have to maintain a consistent level of mental function. Many people, as they get older or begin suffering from various conditions, may experience periods of greater and lesser lucidity. In such a case, proponents of the will may argue that the will is a product of a lucid period, while challengers will try to show the testator lacked capacity at the time he or she made the will.

Professional evaluations may provide evidence

Expert testimony by a physician or mental health expert can offer valuable evidence about mental capacity. Sometimes, a family may want a loved one to have a professional evaluation due to concerns about mental function. Testators who want to make a potentially controversial provision may choose to take the step of undergoing an evaluation specifically for the purposes of fending off future allegations of incapacity.

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