Mental Capacity Standards in California | The Law Offices of Nigel Burns

Mental Capacity Standards in California

How Someone’s Mental State Can Affect Trust and Probate Litigation

Trust and probate litigation often control thousands, if not millions, of dollars worth of assets, and these matters are very complex. Trust and probate law and estate planning standards are contingent on each individual situation, which is why the services of estate litigation lawyers in Los Angeles are so often needed. 

When someone passes away, the future of their finances and assets, called an estate, are described in a will or trust. Probate is the term for a formal legal process of the execution of the will by a formally appointed executor or representative. This executor ensures the fair distribution of the estate to the designated beneficiaries.

Most probate proceedings are neither expensive nor prolonged, but the coronavirus pandemic has complicated legal matters across the board. The duty of administration and accounting for the deceased’s assets must always be performed whether it’s by a professional or a family member, but matters are complicated further when the deceased’s mental state is called into question. 

Mental Capacity and Trust and Probate Litigation

If the deceased party had some ailment affecting their mental capacity, such as dementia, their loved ones may think they need assistance in the creation of their will or trust. In order to keep emotions out of the creation, administration, and accounting of their estate, many families choose to hire a third-party executor such as a Los Angeles probate lawyer.

Litigation regarding a person’s mental capacity for estate planning is extremely costly. To avoid costly contestation, families should take the time to understand legal standards surrounding the creation of estate plans. Mental capacity to litigate a trust or will changes depending on the complexity of the legal document itself.

A trust is more complicated than a will, so a higher mental ability is required to make one. A trust is legally defined as a third-party beneficiary contract, so the trustor must have the mental capacity to handle the creation of a contract.

Mental capacity is at the forefront of estate planning. Mental capacity is one of the chief reasons wills and trusts are declared void, according to probate litigation lawyers in LA. The other reason is undue influence in which another party manipulates someone into giving away their estate. One’s mental power often affects how susceptible to manipulation they are.  

Mental Capacity in the Creation of Wills vs Trusts

Wills and trusts are not treated equally in the California courts. 

A will details the division of one’s estate after they die, and it contains a definitive list of the deceased person’s assets and debts, including any valuables, land, bank accounts, and family heirlooms. A will can list family members, friends, and charities as the beneficiaries. Wills are still valid in the event of an estate transfer and other legal proceedings after the deceased’s death.

A trust is a fiduciary relationship where someone else is given authority to handle a person’s assets for their beneficiaries. There are many different types of trusts, but a testamentary trust controls one’s estate after they pass. Establishing a trust helps the beneficiaries avoid the costs of probate court. In order to be legitimate, a trust must identify the trustor, the trustee, the successor trustee, and the trust beneficiaries. Because of this, they are more complicated than wills to create. 

A trust is generally more expensive than a will to create and maintain. 

Mental Capacity in California Courts 

California law requires that general testamentary capacity be proven, or rather disproven, in all cases. A person does not have general testamentary capacity if they are deemed unable to:

  • Understand the nature and gravity of legal actions they are taking 
  • Recollect the general nature and situation of their estate
  • Remember and understand their relationships with their family members and other affected persons that are in the will or trust

In order to prove that the party creating the will or trust is mentally inept, there must be solid evidence proving mental dysfunction that “significantly impairs the person’s ability to understand and appreciate the consequences of his or her actions with regard to the type of act or decision in question.”  An expert witness’s testimony is required to convince the courts. 

An estate litigation lawyer may also deem that a party lacks testamentary capacity if they suffer from delusions or hallucinations that affect their testamentary disposition. It is not enough that the party suffers from hallucinations or delusions; the hallucinations or delusions must directly affect their decision-making process in their estate planning. For example, an elderly person may suffer from paranoid schizophrenia that creates auditory and visual hallucinations. However, their mental illness does not automatically disqualify them from making their own will and testament; if their hallucinations tell them that their children are actually imposters and that they cannot trust them with assets or money, then this is a case for a probate attorney to deem them mentally incapable. 

Hiring a Civil Litigation Attorney

The management of one’s estate after they are no longer around is complicated, and often emotional, business. Hiring a family law attorney in Los Angeles puts a third party in the mix that will not be emotionally invested in the outcome, which helps the litigation process. 

About the Law Offices of Nigel Burns 

The Law Offices of Nigel Burns is a law firm for family issues, like those surrounding marriage, divorce, and adoption. These are personal matters, so it’s natural to become emotionally invested in your civil lawsuit; our attorneys can handle the legal process to minimize any stress that you may feel. Our attorneys are experts in civil litigation, ensuring that your lawsuit brings you the most favorable results. Our attorneys can help litigate: 

Our attorneys can also help you pursue compensation if you were in an accident and need to sue for damages. If you suffered a car wreck, bike accident, or were hit by a car as a pedestrian, we can get your personal injury lawsuit started. Our offices are located across greater Los Angeles, so accessibility shouldn’t be a problem. We’re also offering virtual services due to COVID-19. To see our full list of contact options, click here.

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