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.

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.

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.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

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
Last Will & Testament of the Terminally Ill


Related articles

Legal Capacity to Execute a Will

Someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease might be perfectly lucid at one moment and wandering the neighborhood with no memory of where she lives the next. According to the American Bar Association, probate law nevertheless presumes that everyone has the mental capacity to sign his will at the time he does it. This means that if you contest a will because you think your loved one did not have the mental capacity to sign it, you have the burden of proving to the court that its legal presumption is wrong.

The Format for a Legal Will

While probate laws defining the format for a valid will vary from state to state, most states acknowledge at least two different types of wills as valid. All states recognize the written will -- the most common format -- which is signed by the testator and two additional witnesses. However, technology and creativity makes way for newer formats, especially when the testator does not have access to the materials needed to execute a traditional will, and state law has evolved to recognize other, less common formats. It is important to note that, with the exception of the written will, not every state recognizes all formats as valid. Testators should always review their residential state’s probate code to determine what formats are acceptable before establishing a final will.

What Is a Legal Will in the State of North Carolina?

Wills in North Carolina can take many forms, depending on the circumstances. However, for each form of will to be declared valid by a North Carolina probate court, the will must conform to the requirements of the North Carolina state code Chapter 31 for the type of will being used.

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

Related articles

How to Contest a Will if a Person Is Incompetent

Sometimes heirs and beneficiaries react with shock when they learn the contents of a loved one’s will. If dear Aunt ...

Rules for Witnessing a Will

A last will and testament is a powerful legal document that instructs the executor of an estate how to distribute the ...

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 ...

What Makes a Will Legal & Binding?

When executed wholly and correctly, a will is a legal document that supersedes any other document, contract or verbal ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED