The creation of a will or trust should leave an individual feeling comfortable with how his or her estate will be distributed upon death. Sometimes, however, squabbles arise over the validity of these estate planning documents when individuals challenge the creator’s competence at the time of the creation of those documents. This can lead to a multitude of issues, including the invalidation of a will or trust which, in turn, can lead to distribution of an estate that is counter to a person’s intentions.
Under California law, an individual can only be found incompetent for the purposes of executing a will or trust if there is evidence that shows a deficiency and that deficiency can be shown to affect the execution of the document in question. This evidence must pertain to at least one of a number of statutorily identified characteristics, including deficiencies in an individual’s consciousness, orientation to time and space, shortcomings in memory and an inability to understand and appropriately communicate.
An individual who suffers deficiencies in thought processes can also have competence drawn into question. This may include disorganized thinking, delusions, hallucinations and repetitive thoughts.
However, these deficits can only be taken into consideration if they affect an individual’s ability to understand the process in which he or she is engaged and the person’s ability to appreciate the ramifications of the actions. It is worth noting that the mere diagnosis of a mental health condition is not enough to show incompetence. Instead, a court will consider the duration, length and frequency of these deficits to determine if an individual was incapable of understanding and appreciating actions when executing the document in question.