When an interested party contests the capacity of the testator, what standard do courts use to determine the validity of a will? The recent case of Neal v. Neal provides insight.  In that case, following her diagnosis of vascular dementia, a mother cut out two sons from her will, and left a third son left as the sole beneficiary. Neal v. Neal, No. 01-19-00427-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 2051, at *1 (Tex. App. Mar. 18, 2021).

Background

In Neal, the decedent, Florene Neal, executed several wills throughout her life, devising her estate in different apportionments to her three sons: John, Randall, and David. Her first and third wills, executed in 2008 and 2011, divided her estate between John and Randall, explicitly excluding David, as he was to gain full ownership of a property that he owned as a joint tenant with right of survivorship. The second will, executed in 2009, left her estate to all three sons in equal shares. In her final will, which was executed in January 2012, Florene devised the entirety of her estate to David, and disinherited both Randall and John.

Florene died in 2015, and Randall opposed admitting the January 2012 will to probate. Randall alleged that Florene lacked testamentary capacity as a result of her vascular dementia diagnosis in August 2011. Ultimately, the court found that Florene was of sound mind when her final will was executed, and Randall appealed the probate court’s decision.

Analysis

On appeal, Randall contended that 1) Florene did not have testamentary capacity when she entered into the final will; and 2) David exerted undue influence to procure the execution of the final will.

Whether Florene had testamentary capacity

For a will to be admitted to probate, a party must first establish that the testator had testamentary capacity. A testator has testamentary capacity when, at the time of the execution of the will, she possesses sufficient mental ability to:

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