When a family member or loved one passes away, it is common to feel a variety of strong emotions. While grief, anger, and loss are among the most common of those emotions, you may also feel confused or even suspicious after finding out the terms of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. You may have concerns about your loved one’s state of mind when the Will was executed. If so, an Indianapolis attorney at Frank & Kraft discusses challenging a Will in Indiana based on lack of testamentary capacity.
What Happens to a Will after the Testator Dies?
When someone dies, one of the first practical steps taken by surviving family and friends is to search for an original (signed) copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. If one is located, the person named as the Executor in the Will is required to submit the Will along with supporting documents to the appropriate court to initiate the legal process known as “probate.” One of the numerous objectives of the probate process is the authentication of the decedent’s Will. As such, it is during probate that any challenges to the validity of the Will submitted are addressed and litigated, if necessary.
What Does It Mean to Contest a Will?
The purpose of executing a Will allow the Testator (creator) to decide how his/her estate is distributed after death. The process of “authenticating” a Will ensures that the Will used to direct the distribution of a decedent’s estate is a legally valid document. If a family member or loved one questions the legal validity of a Will, that person can challenge the Will in a legal proceeding referred to as a Will contest. Note that you must have “standing” to contest a Will and you must have legal grounds on which to challenge the validity of the Will. One of the available legal grounds in the State of Indiana is “lack of testamentary capacity.”
Proving Lack of Testamentary Capacity in an Indiana Will Contest
Lack of testamentary capacity is one of several legal grounds that can be used to invalidate a Will in Indiana. If you are contemplating a Will contest, you need to have a better understanding of what is required to prove that a Testator lacked the testamentary capacity necessary to execute a Will.
Indiana law (like the law in most states) generally starts from the presumption that a Testator had testamentary capacity required to execute a valid Will. In practical terms, this makes your job of proving lack of capacity more difficult. Indiana courts have basically used the same standard to determine testamentary capacity for over a century, finding that a Testator did have the necessary capacity if, at the time the Will was executed, the following were true:
- The Testator understood the extent and value of his or her property.
- The Testator knew the names of the persons who, under normal circumstances, would inherit from the estate. These are the Testator’s legal heirs.
- The Testator understood what his/her natural heirs might deserve given their treatment of the Testator.
A common mistake people make is to presume that because a Testator suffered from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia that the Testator automatically lacked testamentary capacity. This is simply not the case. Alzheimer’s or dementia could provide proof that the Testator lacked the necessary capacity, but if the Testator was not exhibiting clear signs of dementia at the time the Will was executed the mere fact that he/she had been diagnosed with dementia will not be sufficient to prove lack of testamentary capacity.
Do You Need Help Proving Lack of Testamentary Capacity in Indiana?
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you believe that a recently deceased loved one lacked testamentary capacity, contact an experienced Indianapolis estate planning attorney at Frank & Kraft by calling (317) 684-1100 to schedule an appointment.
- What You Need to Know About Older Drivers in Indiana - November 30, 2023
- What Is Undue Influence in an Indiana Will Contest? - November 28, 2023
- How to Make Things Easier for Your Children After Your Death - November 23, 2023