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Senior with Alzheimer's or dementia

Understanding Legal Capacity and Dementia

Redding Law Office July 5, 2023

Even though it’s a fact of life, there’s nothing simple or easy about watching a loved one enter old age. What can make this process frustrating—or even overwhelming—is if your loved one is suffering from a cognitive impairment such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. When this happens, the individual will become less and less capable of taking care of themselves and may be considered “legally incapacitated” in terms of making legal decisions about their healthcare, finances, or estate. Problems can arise when this individual passes away and their will is called into question based on their mental state. 

If you’d like to learn more about challenging a will based on legal incapacity as a result of dementia or Alzheimer's, reach out to Redding Law Office for help. As an estate planning attorney, Attorney Chelsea Redding can assist clients in Southlake, Tarrant County, Denton County, and the rest of Texas with their estate planning and probate concerns. 

Eligibility to Contest a Will

Hopefully, your loved one has created a will or other estate planning documents to lay out their wishes. There are times when you may need to contest the validity of the will and this is typically done during the probate process. To be eligible to contest a will, you must prove one of three things: 

  1. That the contents of the will violate state or federal law; 

  1. That the deceased was legally incapable of writing a will; 

  1. That someone coerced or manipulated the deceased into writing in certain provisions of their will; 

Regarding degenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s, the second two scenarios may come into play. In some cases, there may be a deceitful family member who tries to take advantage of an aging relative and manipulate them into writing their will in such a way that benefits themselves. Or perhaps your loved one waited too long after their diagnosis to write their will and they were no longer of “sound mind” when they finalized their estate plan. In either case, as a concerned family member, you can—and should—contest this to ensure all interested parties are treated fairly and that your loved one’s legacy is respected. 

How Is “Legal Capacity” Defined? 

The first concept to understand in these cases is that of “legal capacity.” Specifically, how does the law define “legal capacity”? In estate planning, when the term is used, it describes an individual’s knowledge and awareness of what they’re writing into their will and the implications of what they are writing. Issues like this can be complicated with dementia patients because their mental competence may change over time; they may have a period of lucidness followed by a period of incapacity.  

When Is an Individual With Dementia Considered Incapacitated? 

So when is someone with dementia or Alzheimer's considered incapacitated? This isn’t easy to answer. When you’re trying to contest a will based on the concept of legal capacity, it will often have to go before a judge. During this process, it's important to contact a will contest attorney to ensure you’re presenting the evidence and documentation necessary to substantiate your claim.  
Key to this will be addressing the deceased state of mind at the time the will was written. To do this, you generally must prove three things about your loved one: 

  1. They didn’t understand the nature of their assets; 

  1. They didn’t understand who their beneficiaries were; 

  1. They were suffering from a cognitive impairment at the time the will was written. 

Personal & Passionate Legal Guidance

If you’re in the Southlake, Texas region and would like to consult with a probate attorney about your options for contesting a will based on mental incapacity, reach out to Redding Law Office for help. Attorney Chelsea Redding is ready to offer individualized and strategic guidance to help you and your family move forward.