A will is a valuable and necessary legal document, but executing one can involve a lengthy and difficult process. To avoid disputes due to mental capacity or coercion, the person executing the will must have a sound mind at the time he or she signs the document.
It can be difficult to define and identify a sound mind, which is why Texas probate law establishes the concept of testamentary capacity. If a person signs a will without meeting the requirements for testamentary capacity, the document may be invalid.
What Is Testamentary Capacity?
Under the Texas Estate Code, a person must have testamentary capacity to legally execute a will. Testamentary capacity refers to the mental ability to understand and make necessary decisions regarding a will at the time of execution.
The purpose of testamentary capacity criteria is to avoid will decisions that arise as a result of coercion or fraud. If a descendent of the deceased person believes that the deceased was not of sound mind at the time of execution, he or she can challenge the will for a lack of testamentary capacity.
Basic Legal Requirements for Testamentary Capacity
To establish testamentary capacity, the person must have the sufficient mental ability to carry out the following tasks at the time of execution.
- Understand the business in which he or she is engaged (i.e., the business of creating the will)
- Understand the effect of the act in creating a will
- Understand the general nature and extent of his or her property
- Identify his or her next of kin and the natural objects of his or her bounty, or the closest surviving members of his or her family
- Collect in his or her mind the elements of the business he or she will transact, hold these elements long enough to perceive their relation to each other, and be able to form a reasonable judgement about them
Any heir, spouse, creditor, or other individual who may have a right to a deceased’s property may be eligible to contest a will over the lack of testamentary capacity. However, it is not enough for the executor to be elderly or experience cognitive difficulties to establish lack of testamentary capacity. The person contesting the will must prove that the deceased lacked the capacity to carry out these tasks on the day he or she executed the document.
Undue Influence and Fraudulent Inducement
In addition to lack of testamentary capacity, an interested party can contest a will in Texas over undue influence or fraudulent inducement. Undue influence refers to the existence and exertion of an influence that subverts or overpowers the mind of the deceased on the day he or she executed the will. A sibling who forces the deceased into including him or her into the will commits an act of undue influence.
On the other hand, fraudulent inducement involves tricking the executor into modifying or creating a new will through means of fraud. For example, if a person hands the executor a new will and claims that he or she needs to sign it without explaining what it is, he or she fraudulently induced the executor.
How Can a Texas Will Contest Attorney Help?
If you believe that your loved one executed a will without meeting the criteria for testamentary capacity, contact a will contest attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will understand the intricacies of Texas trust and estate litigation and can determine whether you have grounds for contesting the will. Your lawyer will also determine whether you have a case for lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, fraudulent inducement, or another eligible contest.