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Estate planning: What is Michigan's standard for mental capacity?

In many ways, creating a will is a way for a person to establish his or her lasting legacy. By distributing assets through a trust to a non-profit organization or a loved one, a life's work can continue to have meaning well beyond an individual's passing. However, in order for that legacy to persist in an intentional fashion, the decedent's last will and testament must be considered valid.

As a will enters probate, there is always room for it to be challenged by a named beneficiary or someone who believes they should've been included in the estate plan. One way to successfully do this is to demonstrate that a person created the most recent will without the mental capacity to do so.

Probate litigation can be incredibly complex and stressful. However, in certain situations, it can help ensure that a person's true wishes are carried out posthumously. Michigan law defines what constitutes capacity in order to help sort out these potential legal issues. Legal adults meet the state's standard for capacity when a will is signed if they:

  • Understand that the document provides for asset and property distribution after death.
  • Have the ability to understand the "nature and extent" of personal property.
  • Recognize the "natural objects of [their] bounty."
  • Understand the effect of signing the will in question.

Of course, this law can be used to help someone build a case that the decedent was not of sound mind when he or she created a will. Toward the end of life, a person might have diminished mental capacity and may not understand exactly what they are doing. At the same time, people who are known to have problems with alcohol or drug dependency might have created a will without establishing proper mental capacity.

In addition to will contests, this statute can be used to help Michigan residents certify their will. If there might be any question about the validity of a will, preparations can be made to demonstrate the legal burden of proof for mental capacity was met at the time the will was signed.

Challenging a will or establishing mental capacity is complicated, which is why this blog post shouldn't be considered specific legal advice. Instead, readers should view this as a reminder of how important it is to ensure that steps are taken to ensure a will is deemed valid during estate administration.

Source: WestLaw, M.C.L.A. 700.2501

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