When a loved one passes away, it can be difficult to accept the loss. Sometimes, the grieving process is made even more difficult as a result of concerns surrounding the decedent’s state of mind at the time he/she executed a Last Will and Testament. When that happens, it adds uncertainty and confusion to your already heightened emotions. If you are worried, how do you prove that your loved one did not have the requisite testamentary capacity to execute his/her Will? You will need to contest the Will and allege “lack of testamentary capacity” as your grounds. To give you some idea what you will need to prove to be successful, the Westport probate attorneys at Nirenstein, Horowitz & Associates, P.C. discuss lack of testamentary capacity in a Connecticut Will contest.
What Happens When a Will Is Probated?
When an individual passes away, one of the first practical steps that must be taken is to locate the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, if one exists. Once located, the individual named as the Executor in the Will is typically required to submit that Will to the appropriate court to initiate the probate of the estate. Probate serves several important purposes, including:
- Ensuring that the decedent’s assets are identified, located, valued, and eventually passed down to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
- Authenticating the decedent’s Will and litigating any challenges to its authenticity.
- Notifying creditors and providing them with the opportunity to file a claims against the estate.
- Ensuring that all gift and estate taxes are paid.
What Happens When Someone Contests the Will?
A common misperception is that an heir or potential beneficiary can challenge a Will simply because they are not happy with the terms of that Will. In reality, a contestant must allege – and ultimately prove if he/she hopes to prevail – one of a limited number of legal grounds on which the Will could be declared invalid. State law governs the available grounds in a Will contest. In the State of Connecticut, grounds on which a Will could be declared invalid include:
- Lack of testamentary capacity
- Undue influence
- Improper Execution
How Does a Contestant Prove Lack of Testamentary Capacity?
Testamentary capacity is an elusive concept because it differs from the capacity needed in other areas of the law, such as the capacity necessary to enter into a contract. For example, someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s might be found to lack the mental capacity needed to enter into a contract yet still have the capacity necessary to execute a Will. As a general rule, Connecticut courts have found a Testator to have testamentary capacity if the Testator:
- Understand the type and extent of his/her property
- Knows who his/her heirs are
- Understands what it means to make a Will
The Testator must also understand and appreciate the relationship between these factors. Therefore, if you are trying to prove that a loved one lacked testamentary capacity, you must prove that he/she did not understand and/or know the factors mentioned above. Finally, it is important to understand that when evaluating the capacity of a Testator, the court will look specifically at the time when the Will was executed. A Testator suffering from early stage dementia, for example, might have periods when he/she lacks capacity but also have periods of clarity when the capacity to execute a Will exists. As long as the Will was executed during a period of clarity, the court may uphold the Will’s validity.
Contact Westport Probate Attorneys
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding contesting a Last Will and Testament in Connecticut, contact the experienced Westport probate attorneys at Nirenstein, Horowitz & Associates, P.C. by calling (860) 548-1000 to schedule an appointment.