Colorado Probate Blog - Wade Ash Woods Hill & Farley, P.C.

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“Sound Mind”, “Lucid Intervals” and “Insane Delusions” – What Does It All Mean?

Author and director William “Tim” Burton is quoted as saying, “They say that one person’s insanity is another person’s reality.” Recently, Wade Ash has been involved in several interesting cases involving testators suffering from cognitive impairment when they prepared their Will or Trust. Even persons who are declared mentally incompetent, incapacitated or suffering from various types of mental illness or addiction, may still have sufficient capacity to prepare a Will or Trust. A testator may even lack testamentary capacity, but still have “lucid intervals” enabling them to prepare a Will.

One of the most important requirements is that the testator have testamentary capacity when he executes his Will or Trust. Testamentary capacity generally means that the testator acted with his or her own free will and without being subjected to improper undue influence. Testamentary capacity is found when the testator is of “sound mind”. Forensic psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel has weighed in on what is a “sound mind”: “The basic presumption is that a will is considered valid and was signed by someone ‘of sound mind’ if it meets all of the other statutory requirements.

The law generally provides that when a Contestant proves at trial that the testator lacked testamentary capacity at the time of the execution of his Will or Trust, the burden of proof shifts to the Proponent to prove that the Will or Trust was executed by the testator during a “lucid interval.” The term “lucid interval” does not mean just a moment of awareness, it is a period of time during which the testator returned to a state of comprehension and possessed actual testamentary capacity.

In a recent blog post, Dr. Max Wachtel addressed what is an “insane delusion”. He stated: “This delusion is a persistent belief “which has no existence in fact and which is adhered to against all evidence.” The delusion must also materially affect the dispositions listed in the will. For example, if a father thinks his wife cheated on him with extraterrestrials and his children are the product of that cheating, it would be an insane delusion if he were to use that “fact” to write the children out of the will. On the other hand, if the father believes his children are aliens but he loves them anyway, thus leaving them in the will, that would not count as an insane delusion under Breeden. That would just be a regular delusion that has no material effect on the dispositions in the father’s will.”


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