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Mental incapacity and its potential impact on your estate, P.1

Memory and cognitive functioning constitute a significant aspect personal identity, and it is difficult to watch a loved one become increasingly affected by Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other conditions diminish these areas of their life. Such conditions can impact not only everyday tasks and personal relationships, of course, but also potentially the individual’s ability to manage their estate in their later years.

The mental capacity of an individual is an important issue for families to be aware of as it relates to the management of that person’s estate. Testamentary capacity is something that can be challenged in probate court, and can result in lengthy and costly legal battles. Individuals and families who are aware of this possibility can take certain steps to reduce the chances of litigation. 

Michigan courts, when faced with questions about an individual’s mental capacity to dispose of his or her assets, look primarily at whether the individual had a general and meaningful understanding of the “nature, state and the scope” of the property. It isn’t that an individual has to have perfect mental presence to dispose of property, but that mental capacity must be sufficient by meeting a minimum standard.

Another issue that can come up in probate court with respect to diminished mental capacity is undue influence. Family members, friends, and others sometimes turn an older individual’s mental weakness to their favor by coercing them to dispose of their property in a certain way. Mental health and presence, along with age, physical health and ability to manage business affairs are all considered when assessing the possibility of undue influence.

In our next post, we’ll look at some steps that can be taken, with the help of experienced legal counsel,  by older Americans and their families to guard against the potential negative impact of mental incapacity on their estate.  

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