There are only two requirements for a will to be legitimate in the state of California. The individual making the will:
- Must be at least eighteen years of age
- Must be of sound mind
California law automatically presumes that anyone of legal age who has drafted and executed (signed, witnessed, and notarized) a will to be mentally competent or “of sound mind.”
A mentally competent person can divide up an estate however he or she wants.
None of his or her relatives are legally entitled to an inheritance, nor is there any obligation to prioritize one beneficiary over another.
However, if the testator (individual making the will) was not mentally competent at the time of drafting or execution, then the California will can be contested in court.
What constitutes mental incompetence?
A mentally incompetent testator is someone who, at the time of making or signing a will:
- Doesn’t understand what it means to make a will
- Can’t remember and understand what assets or property he or she currently owns
- Can’t remember and understand his or her relationship to people impacted by the will
- Suffers from delusions, hallucinations, or other cognitive problems that dramatically alter the way property is divided in the will
Essentially, if individuals didn’t understand they were making or signing a will, they weren’t mentally competent.
However, when people are elderly or in poor health, they may forget details about their situation or the people in their lives. Forgetting the names of grandchildren or not being able to remember every account in their name doesn’t demonstrate mentally incompetence. Perfect memory is not a requirement for sound mind.
On the other hand, forgetting they own the house they are currently living in or thinking a deceased spouse is still alive is a strong indication that mental incompetence is an issue.
A Potential Red Flag
If significant changes were made to a loved one’s will shortly before his or her death, it may point to a problem with mental capacity.
We’ve seen cases where a testator suffering from a condition with a strong component of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, will make abrupt changes to an estate plan that don’t seem in line with previous drafts. Often, these changes will favor one individual over others.
Often, showing a previous draft of the will along with evidence that strongly demonstrates the testator suffered from mental competence issues will help invalidate the newer will.
If you have questions about a loved one’s mental competence at the time he or she signed the will, it is in your best interests to discuss your case with a San Diego probate lawyer. The Grossman Law Firm offers Riverside will contests, probate, trust administration, and trust litigation services. For a free, 30-minute consultation with one of our attorneys, call today toll-free at 888-443-6590, or use our online contact form.
Additionally, be sure to request your copy of Scott Grossman’s must-read book The Ultimate Guide to California Trust and Probate Litigation: How Sons and Daughters Get Their Rightful Inheritance from Their Parents’ Wills and Trusts, which available to you FREE
AttorneyThe Grossman Law Firm, APC · 525 B Street, Suite 1500, San Diego, CA 92101 · (951) 523-8307