Probate litigation only affects a small number of the total estates that pass through Colorado probate courts each year. Oftentimes, the probate courts only need to provide guidance and oversight to ensure that the administration of an estate adheres to state laws and follows the instructions provided by a testator.
However, under a variety of different circumstances, people may need to initiate litigation in probate court because of serious concerns. Those concerns could include worries about the influence of an outside party or the possibility of fraud. Other times, people claim that the testator lacked the necessary capacity to draft legally binding documents. When could people initiate probate litigation because of their concerns about a testator’s cognitive abilities?
After a major diagnosis
Often, the best evidence of reduced testamentary capacity comes from medical records. A diagnosis of dementia or other debilitating conditions could help build the claim that someone did not have the necessary testamentary capacity to create legally binding estate planning paperwork. Although a diagnosis alone doesn’t automatically mean that someone’s estate planning paperwork won’t hold up under scrutiny, it can give someone the necessary grounds required to initiate litigation.
When someone struggled to live independently
Sometimes, older adults fearing the possibility of involuntary guardianship will intentionally avoid medical treatment. There might not be any official documentation of their declining cognitive abilities or a formal diagnosis of any specific condition. However, they may still demonstrate impaired abilities. Personal records including documentation of missed mortgage payments or other financial issues can help establish that someone struggled with reduced capacity after a certain point in life. Witness statements made by neighbors, family members and care professionals can also potentially go a long way toward establishing that someone lacked capacity at a specific point in time.
Those who are able to convince the courts that estate planning paperwork created or changed after a certain point was the result of someone’s diminished capacity and not a reflection of their true wishes could potentially convince the courts to discount those documents or revisions in favor of pre-existing paperwork or intestate succession rules. Recognizing when family members may have grounds to initiate probate litigation may benefit those who question the accuracy of Colorado estate planning documents.