Californians may be familiar with the late author and noted liberal thinker Gore Vidal, who passed away last year and left his entire multi-million dollar estate to Harvard University, completely eschewing his family members and relatives by leaving them nothing. But now, Vidal’s half-sister is challenging the validity of his will, claiming he was not of sound mind when he made the controversial will.
Vidal’s estate is valued at roughly $37 million, a charitable sum even to a well-endowed university such as Harvard. Curiously enough, though, Vidal never had a formal relationship with Harvard, skipping college to join the Navy. But he was a noted guest lecturer at the University on several occasions, and left many of his personal papers to the Harvard library. Vidal had an interestingly complex relationship with the upper echelons of academia, which has left many, including his family, to question his curious decision to leave his entire fortune to Harvard.
Vidal’s sister will try to make the case to the Los Angeles County court, where the estate challenge is being brought, that Vidal’s decision to change the terms of his will in the final year of his life and completely exclude his family was made at a time when he lacked mental capacity to make such a decision.
When executing a will, a person must be of sound mind to reasonably understand the consequences of their testament. If a person cannot make a conscious decision due to mental or physical impairment, they are said to lack capacity, and the terms of the will may be held invalid.
If Vidal’s final will is held invalid, the court may choose to revert to a previous version of his will when he had testamentary capacity, or they may disregard his wills entirely and follow California state law which governs the distribution of an estate when a person dies without a will. In either event, Vidal’s family members may stand to gain a substantial amount of money if his final Harvard-friendly will is held invalid.
Source: The Harvard Crimson “Gore Vidal’s Multimillion Dollar Gift to the University Challenged by Half-Sister,” Ian R. Van Wye, Nov. 13, 2013