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Probate litigation: Mental capacity issues

If a Massachusetts resident wishes to execute an estate plan, he or she must be of sound mind. Probate litigation often involves heirs or beneficiaries who contest a will based upon evidence of the diminished mental capacity of the estate owner. There are several celebrity cases where such issues have been a central focus.

Rosa Parks is one of the most famous women in U.S. history because of her courageous actions on a public bus during the height of the civil rights movement. Sadly, her loved ones have been in and out of court for more than 10 years since her death, fighting over her estate. Her nephews and nieces challenged a trust, as well as their aunt's last will and testament, asserting that she was not of sound mind when she signed the documents and was unduly influenced by another party or parties. They each settled for a 20% portion of assets, but have since gone back to court regarding a missing coat that Parks wore on the Alabama bus and also issues regarding possible mismanagement of her estate.

On the contrary, former actor Gene Wilder's family was able to avoid estate problems even though he suffered the debilitating effects of Alzheimer's disease. This is because Wilder had executed an estate plan while he was still of sound mind. His estate, as well as that of country music superstar Glenn Campbell, illustrates the importance of early planning. Campbell signed estate documents in 2007. In doing so, he disinherited three of his children, although they filed a contest after their father died in 2017 at age 81 while suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

The fact that he had signed the documents years before a diagnosis was evidence that the illness did not affect his decisions. His children later dropped their case. Probate litigation is stressful and often causes permanent rifts between family members. This is one of many reasons that early planning is beneficial, before signs of aging or possible mental incapacity prompt others to challenge the validity of a plan. An experienced Massachusetts estate planning attorney can provide support to anyone wanting to learn more about the process, as well as to anyone who wants to make updates or changes to an existing plan.

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