In theory, those who take the time to create an estate plan get to control what happens with their property when they die. Unfortunately, some people will have their last wishes undermined by family members who challenge their estate plans.
Probate challenges can arise when someone believes that estate planning documents violate their rights. Other times, people can make claims related to the influence of outside actors on the estate plan. However, in some cases, it is health concerns or issues with someone’s cognitive ability that lead to will contests. Why would someone’s health affect the validity of estate planning documents?
Not every adult retains their testamentary capacity
An adult must be of sound mind to have the testamentary capacity to sign legally-binding documents. Typically, people cannot enter into binding agreements when in a diminished state or when their medical circumstances compromise their cognitive ability.
For some people, there can be a temporary loss of testamentary capacity stemming from certain forms of medical treatment. Other times, the loss of capacity is permanent and will result from a severe injury or a degenerative medical condition like Alzheimer’s disease.
Those diagnosed with medical conditions that affect their cognition may not be able to fully comprehend the implications of the decisions that they make. Those who draft estate planning documents only after a severe injury or diagnosis with a cognitive issue may not have created viable documents enforceable documents.
The probate courts may side with a plaintiff who claims that the health issue caused a lack of capacity, which means that the documents are invalid. The same thing could happen to updated estate planning documents when the changes occur after someone’s diagnosis or injury.
Medical evidence is key for capacity-based challenges
If someone wants to contest an estate plan or will based on the testator’s lack of capacity, they will need medical evidence affirming that there was a condition affecting the testator at the time that they drafted or updated their documents.
In some cases, it may be necessary to have witnesses participate in the process to clarify someone’s mental acuity and behavior. Caregivers, family members and medical professionals can all help build the case for someone’s capacity or lack thereof in probate court.
Identifying common reasons that probate litigation is filed can help those who are concerned about preventing in-fighting and safeguarding the integrity of their wishes as expressed in an estate plan. Speaking with an experienced attorney can be very helpful as well.