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How someone’s mental state can affect the probate process

On Behalf of | Nov 30, 2023 | Probate Litigation |

The goal during the probate process in Maryland is usually to fulfill someone’s final obligations and then uphold their last wishes. Those who die with a will on record provide their loved ones and the Maryland probate courts with clear instructions about what should happen to their property after they die.

Most of the time, family members rely on those documents to guide the probate process. However, sometimes family members initiate probate litigation out of concern about someone’s mental state when they drafted their documents. If there were issues with their cognitive ability, the courts may set aside their estate planning documents.

A testator must have testamentary capacity

For a Maryland adult to create a binding and enforceable estate plan, they must have testamentary capacity. The law in Maryland assumes that adults are sane and have testamentary capacity. Therefore, family members and others questioning the validity of estate planning paperwork will need evidence to the contrary. Will contests based on claims that someone lacked testamentary capacity usually require compelling evidence.

Medical records, testimony from caregivers and other key details could convince the courts that an older adult did not understand the documents they executed and lacked the capacity to draft legally-binding paperwork. A lack of capacity generally means that someone did not understand the purpose of their documents, the relationship they had with their beneficiaries or the resources in their estate. If the courts side with the plaintiffs, they may set aside someone’s will or revert to earlier versions of the paperwork.

Raising questions about someone’s mental state can sometimes help ensure that the probate process aligns with an individual’s lifelong intentions rather than those set in the last years of their life.