What is Testamentary Capacity for Florida Wills and Trusts?
Testamentary capacity is a crucial element in the creation of wills and trusts in Florida. It refers to the mental and legal ability of a person to create or modify their estate planning documents. The state of Florida recognizes that a person may have varying degrees of capacity at different times, depending on their physical and mental health. Therefore, it is important to understand the legal requirements and standards for testamentary capacity when creating or modifying wills and trusts.
Florida Statutes on Testamentary Capacity
Under Florida law, a person must have testamentary capacity to create a valid will or trust. Section 732.501 of the Florida Statutes defines testamentary capacity as follows:
“Any person who is of sound mind and who is not a minor may make a will.”
This means that a person must have the ability to understand the nature and extent of their property, know the natural objects of their bounty (i.e., their family members and loved ones), and understand the nature of the document they are signing. They must also have the ability to form a rational plan for the distribution of their property.
Florida courts have applied this standard in various cases over the years. For example, in In re Estate of Carpenter, the court noted that testamentary capacity requires a person to have “sufficient mental ability to understand in a general way the nature and extent of the property to be disposed of, and the relation of the testator to those who would naturally claim a substantial benefit from his estate, as well as a general understanding of the practical effect of the will as executed.”
In addition to understanding the nature of the document they are signing, the person must also have the mental capacity to understand the consequences of their actions. This includes the ability to understand the legal effect of the document, the persons who will be affected by it, and the consequences of leaving someone out of the will or trust.
Florida courts have also established that a person’s capacity may fluctuate, and the burden of proof is on the party challenging the validity of the document to show that the person lacked capacity at the time of execution.
Presumption of Capacity
There is a legal presumption in Florida that a person has testamentary capacity unless it is proven otherwise. This means that the person creating the will or trust is presumed to have had the mental and legal ability to do so, and the burden of proving otherwise falls on the person challenging the document’s validity.
However, if there is evidence of the person’s lack of capacity or undue influence, the court may require medical evidence, such as the testimony of a treating physician or a forensic psychologist, to determine the person’s capacity at the time of execution.
Another factor that may affect the validity of a will or trust is undue influence. This occurs when a person is coerced or manipulated by another person into creating or modifying a will or trust in a way that does not reflect their true wishes.
Florida Statute 733.107 defines undue influence as follows:
“Undue influence” means overpersuasion, duress, force, coercion, or artful or fraudulent contrivances that overcome the free will and judgment of the testator.
In order to prove undue influence, the challenger must show that the person creating the document was susceptible to influence, that the influencer had the opportunity to exert influence, and that there was a result that is unnatural or contrary to the person’s wishes.
Testamentary capacity is a critical component of creating a valid will or trust in Florida. The person creating the document must have the mental and legal ability to understand the nature and extent of their property, the natural objects of their bounty, and the practical effect of the document they are signing. The burden of proving lack of capacity or undue influence falls on the party challenging the document’s validity, and the legal presumption in Florida is that a person has testamentary capacity unless it is proven otherwise. Additionally, if there is evidence of undue influence, it can also affect the validity of the document. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider the requirements for testamentary capacity when creating or modifying wills and trusts in Florida. Seeking the advice of a knowledgeable estate planning attorney can help ensure that your documents meet the legal requirements and are less susceptible to challenges based on lack of capacity or undue influence.
How Purcell, Flanagan, Hay & Greene Can Help
We have attorneys here at Purcell, Flanagan, Hay & Greene who are skilled and experienced with the laws on testamentary capacity for wills and trusts in Florida. Contact us today.