In this article, we discuss lack of testamentary capacity in Iowa will contests. Our Iowa probate attorneys answer:
- What does it mean to contest a will in Iowa?
- What is testamentary capacity?
- How to prove lack of testamentary capacity in Iowa
- When is testamentary capacity measured?
What Does It Mean to Contest a Will in Iowa?
A will determines how an individual’s estate and assets will be divided amongst family members and other heirs upon their passing. But in some cases, a will can be challenged or contested in Iowa if there are reasons to doubt its authenticity. A will cannot be contested simply because an heir or potential heir does not agree with its terms. A will in Iowa can only be contested for the following reasons:
- Will was not signed in accordance with state laws
- Testator was unduly influenced
- Will was procured by fraud
- Testator lacked testamentary capacity
What is Testamentary Capacity?
To execute a valid will, a testator must display testamentary capacity. In Iowa, this is defined as the mental capacity to know:
- What property the testator owns, in detail
- The natural objects of his bounty (knows and remembers their children and other immediate family)
- What a will is and how the included terms will dispose of their property upon their death
- The typical role a will plays in disposing of property
If an heir believes that a testator did not understand or fully comprehend these criteria, they have standing grounds to contest the will in question due to lack of testamentary capacity.
How to Prove Lack of Testamentary Capacity in Iowa
Proving lack of testamentary capacity when contesting a will in Iowa falls on the party seeking to invalidate the will. This can be done in several ways.
- Medical records — Medical records that show diagnoses of conditions or illnesses that affect one’s ability to reason and comprehend may be used to prove lack of testamentary capacity. Potential diagnoses include dementia, Alzheimer’s, or neurological conditions. Accidents resulting in minor to severe brain damage may also be used to prove lack of testamentary capacity, but changes to a person’s personality will need to be thoroughly documented.
- Expert testimony — A testator’s nurses, doctors, psychologists, and other medical professionals may testify to the capacity of their patient. Expert testimony can also come from a medical professional who did not treat the testator. They can offer their medical opinion regarding the capacity of the testator after reviewing their medical files.
- Non-expert testimony — Witnesses of the testator may share experiences and observations with the court when trying to determine the presence of testamentary capacity. For example, family members, friends, accountants, attorneys, and others who were in direct contact with the testator on a regular basis may provide evidence of confusion, invalid accusations, forgetfulness, delusions, and other concerns.
When Is Testamentary Capacity Measured?
It’s important to note that just because a testator suffered from dementia or other serious illness, their will may not automatically be deemed invalid due to lack of testamentary capacity. If the will was drawn and executed before the diagnosis or before signs of deteriorating mental capacity appeared, the court will likely find that capacity did exist, and the will contest will be dismissed.