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Raising questions about testamentary capacity during probate

On Behalf of | Sep 22, 2023 | Probate, Trust & Estate Administration |

When someone dies, family members will eventually need to sit down and look over their will or other estate planning documents. Oftentimes, people know exactly what to expect because older adults have communicated with their loved ones about what will happen with their property and their plans for their funeral at length.

However, sometimes people find the contents of a will or testamentary documents shocking and disconcerting. Someone who always claimed they would divide their resources evenly among their four children may have left everything to only one child or disinherited all their family members in favor of an outside party, for example.

Those who question the terms of someone’s final estate planning paperwork may come to believe that someone’s cognitive decline impacted their decisions. How might people establish that a lack of capacity may have led to invalid estate planning paperwork?

They find evidence to validate their concerns

One of the simplest ways to establish that someone lacked the necessary capacity to create legal estate planning documents is to look at the date of the creation of the documents. Under Colorado law, adults must be of sound mind to create legally-binding estate planning paperwork.

If someone made revisions to their paperwork after they had already begun declining mentally, family members may be able to convince the courts that the most recent version of their estate planning paperwork is not valid and enforceable. In some cases, there may be medical records showing that an older adult had long since developed symptoms of dementia.

Other times, there may be financial records that show someone’s ability to manage their own affairs had significantly declined. Testimony from family, neighbors and caregivers could help establish that by the time someone made those changes to their estate planning paperwork, they struggled to live independently and rationally consider every decision they made. The more evidence family members have that affirms that someone lacked the necessary capacity to create legally binding documents, the better the chances that they can convince the courts to set aside estate planning paperwork.

What happens if the courts agree?

If a judge agrees with the claims of family members that someone lacked the legal capacity necessary to create new estate planning documents, they will usually take one of two approaches to resolving the issue. The first approach would involve setting aside the most recent documents someone created and reinstating prior documents drafted prior to their health challenges. The second option is to treat the estate as though someone died without a will. By applying intestate succession laws, the courts can ensure that those with the closest relationships to the deceased inherit the property from their estate.

Connecting the questionable terms of someone’s estate plan with their decline later in life might help families uphold someone’s true lifelong legacy intentions. Seeking legal guidance is a good way to secure both clarity and support in this regard.