Can You Contest a Will When the Testator Was Medicated?

By Carrie Ferland

Testamentary capacity is perhaps one of the most-cited reasons for challenging the validity of a will during probate, and for good cause. Capacity directly affects a testator’s legal ability to make a will, which is why every state defines strict statutory guidelines describing mental competency. Most states do permit claimants to contest a will on grounds of diminished or lacking testamentary capacity if the testator was under the influence of mind-altering medication. However, medication affects each individual differently, so the courts must examine the testator’s state of mind and the actual effects of the medication on a case-by-case basis.

Testamentary capacity is perhaps one of the most-cited reasons for challenging the validity of a will during probate, and for good cause. Capacity directly affects a testator’s legal ability to make a will, which is why every state defines strict statutory guidelines describing mental competency. Most states do permit claimants to contest a will on grounds of diminished or lacking testamentary capacity if the testator was under the influence of mind-altering medication. However, medication affects each individual differently, so the courts must examine the testator’s state of mind and the actual effects of the medication on a case-by-case basis.

Testator Capacity

The law presumes that a testator who otherwise meets the requirements to establish a will possesses capacity. This is, however, a rebuttable presumption, meaning the court will define the testator as incapable if a claimant can prove otherwise. Therefore, it is possible to contest a will on grounds of mental incapacity, but the burden of proof is on the claimant to prove incapacity, not on the testator to prove capacity.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Proving Medical Incapacity

To contest the will of a medicated testator successfully, the claimant must demonstrate that the testator was actually under the influence at the time he executed the will, the medication is classified as a mind-altering substance, the medication did actually impede testamentary capacity and that the will does not express the testator’s wishes because of the impediment.

Mind-Altering Substances

A testator undergoing therapeutic medicinal treatment is not inherently incapacitated. The testator must be taking medication that is known to cause significantly mental impairment. Narcotic painkillers, benzodiazepines and anesthetics are all well-known for their mind-altering capabilities. Illicit narcotics, including opiates, hallucinogens and even marijuana can also incapacitate a testator if he was using them at the time he executed his will. Mood-altering medications, however, are not known for impeding mental capacity, and usage is unlikely to void the validity of a will. Anti-depressants, antipsychotics, anxiolytics and stimulants actually repair mental incapacitation. Additionally, the claimant must consider how long the testator was using the medication -- a chronic pain patient who used narcotic painkillers regularly over the course of two years is unlikely to experience any considerable mental impediment, as the patient has acclimated to the effects.

Proving Actual Impairment

If the testator was taking mind-altering medications at the time she executed her will, the next step is to prove that the medication caused impairment. It is inherently difficult to prove one’s state of mind, especially if the person is no longer alive to provide testimony. The claimant will need to provide other evidence to make her case, such as testimony from the testator’s relatives and physicians, videos demonstrating the testator’s mental capacity preceding the execution of the will and medical records showing a drastic decline in the testator’s mental capacity.

Proving Intent

Even if a claimant can demonstrate impairment, he must prove that the will does not express the testator’s intentions. If the testator’s will is consistent with any previous versions of the will executed prior to the testator’s impairment, the claimant will not be able to contest it. Conversations between the testator and the claimant are also not significant enough to prove intent, especially if the testator was mentally incapacitated at the time. The claimant would need to show that the testator made a major last-minute change to her will and that these changes are inconsistent with previous versions of the will, that a named beneficiary coerced the testator while she was medicated or similar circumstances to prove the will does not define the testator’s intentions.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Types of Last Will & Testaments

References

Related articles

Grounds for Contesting a Will in Georgia

In Georgia, the personal representative appointed in the will must file the will for probate in the probate court where the decedent last resided. Once probate opens, the personal representative must then provide notice to any and all potential interested parties to the will, and any person or creditor with a stake in the will may challenge the will by filing a “Caveat” with the Georgia probate court.

How to Contest a Will Because of Mental Capacity

You may contest a will if you're an interested party, such as an heir or beneficiary of the deceased person, known as the decedent, and believe the decedent didn't have the mental capacity necessary to write a will. You must prove the decedent didn't meet the mental capacity standard at the time he wrote the will. The mental capacity required to make a will is much lower than the legal standard for other acts, such as making a contract. The will maker, or testator, must know who he is, have a general understanding of the assets he owns and understand the relationship between himself and likely beneficiaries of his estate, such as his spouse and children.

Do Wills Have to Be Notarized?

The signature of the testator, or will maker, need not be notarized, nor can a notarized signature replace the legal requirement of two subscribing witnesses to the will. A notary's function is to assure that the person signing a document is the person claiming to sign a document -- a function performed by comparing identification and sometimes fingerprints -- while witnesses to a will must also affirm testamentary capacity and intent.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

How to Contest a Will Proving Incompetence

The laws in most states presume that anyone who writes a will is mentally competent to do so -- unless or until someone ...

Overturning a Will for Delusional Disorder

You can overturn a will if you prove that the person making the will, known as the testator, lacked the mental capacity ...

How to Break a Will or Probate

Probate is court-supervised administration of a testator's last will and testament. Upon the death of the person making ...

Contesting a Will as a Beneficiary

Will contests take place in probate court: One of the functions of probate court is to hear any disputes pertaining to ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED