A Will contest filed by an heir of a national and local celebrity, Charley Pride, has brought forth many questions regarding Will contests to those who aren’t familiar with challenging a Will based on mental capacity issues and undue influence in Texas.
By kissing an angel good morning, Charley Pride ended up bringing an illegitimate son, Tyler Pride, into Charley Pride’s life. A son that he had a relationship with - which ultimately prompted the Will contest to be filed in a Dallas probate court when the son was left out of the Will with allegations of undue influence and lack of capacity. So, what are the chances of successfully contesting a Will in Texas?
Texas Will contests usually fall into one or more categories; lack of mental capacity and/or undue influence are the two most common. In the Charley Pride Will contest, allegations of decades-long mental health issues surfaced with allegations of delusions, panic attacks, and manic depression. The allegations point to mental capacity issues that allegedly prevented Charley Pride from signing a valid Will. In addition, allegations of undue influence regarding finances and money were also asserted.
The Will contest lawsuit alleges breach of fiduciary duty, undue influence, and (undue) control on the part of Charley Pride’s wife which also led to the Will contest. In addition, there are allegations against the wife for using persuasion and control to take advantage of Charley Pride’s medical conditions and mental capacity issues. Simply put, the allegations in the Will contest are that Charley Pride did not have the testamentary capacity to sign a valid Will in Texas.
In a Will contest for undue influence, the elements of undue influence must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.
The Will contestant must prove three elements:
1. The existence and exertion of an influence,
2. The effective operation of such influence to subvert or overpower the mind of the testator at the time of the Will’s execution, and
3. That the testator executed a Will that he or she would not have executed but for the undue influence.
In a Texas Will contest for lack of testamentary capacity, the Will contestant must prove that the testator (person who signed the Will) was not of “sound mind”. There is no specific standard to establish “sound mind”. The Texas Supreme Court has held that the testator has testamentary capacity if he or she has sufficient mental ability at the time a Last Will and Testament is executed to:
1. Understand the business in which he or she is engaged, specifically the making of a Will;
2. Understand the effect of the testator’s act in making a Will;
3. Understand the general nature and extent of the testator’s property;
4. Know the testator’s next of kin, the natural objects of the testator’s bounty, and the claims upon the testator; and
5. Collect in the testator’s mind the elements of the business to be transacted and hold them long enough to perceive their obvious relation to each other and to form a reasonable judgment as to them.
In a Will contest in Texas, there is a presumption that the testator possessed the necessary capacity at the time the Will was signed. If the above referenced test criteria are not satisfied, the Will can be found to be invalid.
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