How Does CA Define Incapacity when it comes to Estates, Wills, and Trusts?
In order for a last will and testament or living trust to be valid and enforceable, the person creating the document must have the requisite mental capacity. This is similar to needing the capacity to get married, sign a contract, make medical or financial decisions, and other important aspects of life.
When someone with standing calls into question the capacity of a testator or trustor, the will or trust could be rendered invalid. But how does California decide when someone is incapacitated for estate planning purposes?
California Probate Laws
Probate laws in California define testamentary incapacity as:
- The individual does not have the sufficient capacity to:
- Understand the nature of creating the trust or will
- Understand and remember the nature of their own property at issue in the trust or will, OR
- Recall their close relationships with those who would be affected by the trust or will, including spouse, children, and parents
- The individual has a mental health disorder that creates hallucinations or delusions, and those resulted in the testamentary act, when the would not have made the trust or will (or amended a document) if not for the hallucinations or delusions.
If someone does not understand the nature or effect of making a will or trust, including their property and people who should likely be beneficiaries, they cannot sign a legally valid estate planning document.
If someone does not have sufficient capacity and needs to create or amend an estate plan, they might be able to have their conservator – who is appointed by the courts – do so on their behalf. This is a possibility to discuss with an estate planning attorney.
Will Contests Based on Lack of Capacity
If your loved one passes away, you might be surprised by certain terms of their will or trust. Perhaps they amended their will or trust a few months before they passed away, and they left most of their property to a distant cousin instead of their child. In this situation, the child might want to question why they did so, and capacity might be an issue raised, along with undue influence or fraud.
Knowing someone’s state of mind when they created or amended a will or trust can be impossible after they have already passed away. This makes will contests difficult matters during the already stressful probate process. However, if you believe your loved one’s will or trust was far off base from what they would have wanted, it can be necessary to question the validity of the will or trust based on incapacity.
Learn More from a Santa Ana Estate Planning Lawyer
Whether you need to create an estate plan or have questions about the validity of your loved one’s estate plan, a Santa Ana estate planning attorney can help. Contact the Law Offices of Roshni T. Desai for a consultation as soon as possible.