In order to have a valid will in Michigan, a testator must meet the requirements set forth in the Michigan Wills Act. This statute states that in order to have a valid Will, the testator’s Will must be in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed by at least two individuals. If a Will fails to meet these requirements, it may still be valid as a holographic Will as long as it dated and if the testator’s signature and the document’s material portions are in the testator’s handwriting.
Even if these requirements are met, an individual may contest a Will’s validity on other grounds. Often times, a Will is contested on the grounds that the testator lacked sufficient testamentary mental capacity when the Will was executed. Whether a testator has sufficient testamentary mental capacity to make a Will is governed by MCL 700.2501. That statute states that an individual has sufficient testamentary mental capacity to make a Will if the following requirements are met: (1) the individual has the ability to understand that he or she is providing for the disposition of his or her property after death (2) the individual has the ability to know the nature and extent of his or her property (3) The individual knows the natural objects of his or her bounty and (4) the individual has the ability to understand in a reasonable manner the general nature and effect of his or her act in signing the Will. Whether a testator had sufficient mental capacity is judged as of the time the Will was executed, not before or after. The contestant of the Will has the burden of establishing the lack of testamentary capacity.
The Michigan Court of Appeals recently addressed the issue of testamentary mental capacity in In re Marion R. Craig Trust. In Craig, the testator executed a holographic Will shortly before he committed suicide. The Will was contested on the grounds that the testator lacked testamentary mental capacity due to his mental illness and substance abuse. The court rejected this argument, noting that although he suffered from drug dependence and may have been suffering from depression, there was no evidence to suggest that any of these issues affected his ability to make decisions or understand his Will at the time it was made.
To the contrary, the contents of the Will evidenced that the testator understood that he was making a Will, that he knew the nature and extent of his property, he knew the natural objects of his bounty, and the effect of signing the Will. He wrote out bequests of specific real and personal property to multiple family members. Given that both of his parents predeceased him, he was an only child, and had never married, his bequests to his first cousin and close friends evidenced that he understood the natural objects of his bounty. Although issues of drug dependency and mental illness are serious concerns, as long as a testator is able to meet the four requirements set forth in MCL 700.2501 at the time he executes his Will, the Will is valid in Michigan.
Please contact The Probate Pro if you have any questions regarding testamentary mental capacity or any other probate matter.