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March 27, 2019

In a Will Contest, When Is Mental Capacity Evaluated?

In a will contest, Michigan law provides that the decedent’s mental capacity is judged as of when the decedent signed the will. However, evidence of the decedent’s mental condition before or after signing the will is relevant if there is evidence that such condition also existed when the will was signed.
 
These principles were applied in In re Estate of Aurelia M. Rokosky, 2019 WL 575343, Docket No. 341693 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 12 2019) (unpublished). There, Aurelia Rokosky’s daughter petitioned the probate court to invalidate her mother’s 2011 will, leaving her entire estate to her neighbor. In support of her petition, the daughter offered evidence of Aurelia’s mental problems identified during a subsequent hospital stay. The probate court dismissed the daughter’s petition. Noting that mental capacity is judged as of when the decedent signed the will, the probate court found that the hospital records were irrelevant because they were not from the date on which the decedent signed the will.
 
The daughter appealed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the probate court should not have dismissed the daughter’s petition. The hospital records in question were dated only four days after Aurelia signed her will. Because the hospital records were made close in time to when the decedent signed the will, the Court of Appeals ruled that they were relevant to the decedent’s mental capacity on the date of execution of the will. “Given that a mere four days passed between decedent’s execution of the 2011 will and her hospitalization for confusion and ultimate diagnosis of dementia, it is probable that she suffered from dementia at the time she executed the will.” Id at *5.
 
What is to be learned from this case? A person who wants to bring a will contest based on mental incapacity should understand that he or she must offer evidence of the decedent’s mental incapacity on the date when the will was signed. If evidence of mental condition comes from a time period before or after the will was signed, then there must be some reason to believe that the prior or subsequent mental condition also existed when the will was signed. Otherwise, the prior or subsequent evidence will be considered irrelevant.
 
If you need assistance with a probate court matter, please contact Warner attorneys David Skidmore (dskidmore@wnj.com) or Laura Morris (lmorris@wnj.com).

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