So what exactly is a “sound mind” in Florida?

According to Florida Statute § 732.501, any person who is of sound mind and legal age (at least 18 years old or emancipated) can make a will. Florida is home to an eclectic and wide ranging group of people, especially in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Palm Beach. However, not every one of its adults or emancipated minors is qualified to make a will that would later be enforceable. Those lacking a sound mind, otherwise known as incapacited, may have their wills challenged by effected beneficiaries.

So what exactly is a sound mind? Florida courts have held that several behaviors could disqualify a person from making a valid will. For instance, an individual suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, mental weakness, illness, or old age may not be able to create an enforceable will; yet the presence of such condition(s) alone is not enough to invalidate a will. The residing probate court will enforce the will if the testator (creator of the will) had sufficient wherewithall and memory to understand the consequences of his/her action at the time the will was executed. If the substance abuse or condition impaired one’s mental capacity to comprehend the consequences of a will, then the court may not enforce it.

Courts will determine the mental capacity of the testator on a case by case basis to see whether there was indeed a lack of capacity. The mental state of the testator is determined at the time the will is created and executed, not the time subsequent. Thus, if Aunt Lucile created a will and then developed a drug problem, a court would likely enforce the will after a finding that she was not mentally incapable at the time she made the will.

Nevertheless, it could be difficult to determine whether one had a sound mind when creating a will. The burden of proof is on the petitioner seeking to revoke the will and the petitioner must establish mental incompetency at the time of the execution of the will by a preponderance of evidence. This usually involves expert testimony, a detailed analysis of medical records and an understanding of medical conditions which may impact the capacity of individuals to comprehend their actions.

Thus, probate litigation of wills is intricate and requires detailed evidence to overcome the presumption that the testator had the mental capacity to make a will. If you live in the West Palm, Broward or Miami-Dade area and believe a will was executed by an individual who lacked capacity or you are the beneficiary of a will under attack based on an argument of lack of capacity, the probate litigation team at Chepenik Trushin will help you obtain the proper legal relief. Please feel free to contact us for an initial first consultation.