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Understanding Legal Capacity & Dementia

Eric H. Light, P.A.  Dec. 22, 2022

Justice and law concept. In Florida, a testator can use a will to provide specific instructions regarding how their estate should be administered, assets distributed to inheritors, or disposed of when they're gone. However, an interested person may be able to challenge the validity of the will due to irregularities in its execution, incapacity, undue influence, or other legal grounds. 

At Eric H. Light, P.A., I am an estate planning attorney that provides knowledgeable guidance and advocacy to clients in complex legal matters involving will contest. As your legal team, I can investigate the surrounding circumstances of your unique situation and guide you through the process involved in contesting the validity of a will. My firm proudly serves clients across Boca Raton, Florida, and surrounding communities. 

Eligibility to Contest a Will  

A will contest can be described as a legal petition filed – after a will has been submitted to the court for approval – challenging its validity. The purpose of a will contest is to challenge or dispute the validity of the will or how it was executed. However, not just anyone can contest a will in Florida.  

In order to be eligible, you must be an "interested person" or have a "legal standing." This means that you must have an interest or legal right in the will or probate proceeding – before you can challenge its validity. Examples of interested persons include the decedent's heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors. 

How Is "Legal Capacity" Defined?  

According to Florida law, legal capacity or testamentary capacity can be described as the ability of the testator to mentally understand: 

  • The nature and extent of the property to be disposed of, 

  • The testator's relation to those who would naturally claim a substantial benefit from his will, and 

  • A general understanding of the practical effect of the will as executed. 

Hence, for a will to be valid in Florida, it must be executed by a competent adult who is of sound mind. 

When Is an Individual With Dementia Considered Incapacitated?  

Dementia is a general term used for mental health disorders that involve the loss of memory, problem-solving, language, and other thinking abilities. Alzheimer's disease is the most common kind of dementia. Overtime, people with dementia may experience the following issues with estate planning: 

  • They may be unable to make decisions about their health care or medical procedures. 

  • They may forget about assets, property, personal belongings, and safe deposit boxes. 

  • They may be unable to choose a designated beneficiary. 

  • They may find it difficult to communicate or express themselves. 

  • They may become unable to understand crucial details or make the right decisions. 

  • They may find it difficult to think, organize, or plan. 

  • Unless they're of sound mind, they may be unable to establish a valid estate plan. 

Generally, a person who has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's disease won't be considered to be of unsound mind or incapacitated immediately. In addition to the medical diagnoses, there must also be a legal determination of incapacity by the Florida court. 

The Process – Legal Determination of Incapacity 

What's more, the court will appoint an examining committee that will review the person's medical records and carry out other investigations. A hearing will be scheduled where the court will review the committee's report or findings and allow the attorneys to present their cases. 

If at the time of executing the will, the testator was determined to be of sound mind, the will remains valid. Conversely, if the examining committee members find that the testator lacks capacity, the judge will determine that they are legally incapacitated. 

Furthermore, a guardian may be appointed for a legally incapacitated person in Florida. However, if the testator has died, legal incapacity may be a valid ground to contest a will. A seasoned attorney can evaluate your unique situation and help determine the best course of action. 

Experience You Can Trust: Eric H. Light, P.A. 

Unfortunately, some unethical individuals can do anything to manipulate others for their personal or financial gain. If you question the validity of a loved one's will or suspect coercion, incapacity, undue influence, or fraud, you may have legal grounds to challenge the will. Attorney Eric H. Light has the diligence and knowledge to guide and represent clients in probate and estate litigation matters. 

As your attorney, I will review and investigate your case thoroughly and determine whether you have a valid ground to contest the will. Using my broad experience, I will represent you intelligently in every phase of the legal proceedings and continue fighting to protect your loved one’s rights, as well as what is rightfully yours. 

Contact Eric H. Light, Esq. today for the personalized legal direction and the brilliant advocacy you need in your legal battle. My firm proudly serves clients across Boca Raton, Florida, and surrounding communities.