Articles Posted in Capacity

In Texas, to create an estate plan, you must have sufficient mental capacity to understand what is going into the document. If your estate plan is later going through a probate court, and the judge decides that you did not have the proper mental capacity when signing your will, your beneficiaries will have problems getting the assets you left behind. On today’s blog, we review some basic components of capacity; if you have questions about whether a loved one is in the right mindset to draft an estate plan, speak with a Houston estate planning attorney that can help you apply these requirements to your circumstances.

Basic Capacity Requirements

In Texas, to create a will, there are three important requirements to consider. Importantly, you must meet only one of these three requirements: 1) you are at least 18 years old, 2) you are or have been legally married, or 3) you are a member of the U.S. military.

As long as you meet one of the three requirements, you will be able to create a will if you also have the capacity to understand the legal document. For individuals without this mental capacity, called “testamentary capacity” in legal terms, it might be necessary to retain a power of attorney or a legal guardian to help get the will drafted and finalized.

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In Texas, power of attorney refers to a legal document that allows one individual to act on behalf of another individual. Power of attorney can look different depending on the specific circumstances, and the decision of whether to grant power of attorney is an inherently personal one. Today, we review some of the options for granting power of attorney, including whether you can limit the authority of the person to whom you grant this power.

The short answer to this question is that yes, you can limit the power granted by power of attorney. You can accomplish this goal in several ways. To start, you can grant power of attorney only for a specific period of time – for example, you can give someone authority to act on your behalf only until a specific task has been accomplished (for example, for the period of time in which you are filing your taxes or undergoing a surgery). You can also grant power of attorney only if you become incapacitated, only upon your death, or only until you decide to revoke the power of attorney.

You can also grant an individual “limited” power of attorney, meaning you give a person authority only within a very specific realm of your life. You might, for example, grant someone power to assign the legal title to a vehicle you own. You might also consider granting power of attorney only in a matter concerning tax collection, or only in a matter concerning your physical health. The list of options is limitless, and how you choose to grant power of attorney will depend on your specific set of circumstances.

Ideally, any individual drafting a will would be able to make decisions for him or herself. In reality, however, at times, there are competence issues, meaning that when a person is mentally incompetent or incapacitated, others might challenge that person’s will or estate plans down the line. In today’s blog, we cover the most important things you need to know about probate and incompetence, walking you through some of the steps that a Texas probate court might require in order to prove a decedent’s incompetence.

What is Incompetence?

In Texas, a person is deemed “incompetent” in the legal sense if he or she does not have sufficient mental ability to understand that he or she is making a will. If that person does not understand the will’s possible effects and/or know which people will inherit through the will, he or she might be deemed incompetent.

Courts rely on witnesses to speak about a person’s capacity, and courts generally want to hear about the person’s capacity on the day the will was written. If, for example, a decedent was mentally stable on the day of the will’s execution but mentally unstable from the next day onward, the court will only consider the day when he or she actually made pertinent decisions about the will.

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12.28.18If you live far from your hometown, you may be used to seeing large changes in aging parents from year to year. However, if you are involved in their day to day life, you may not notice the changes, or they may seem to come and go.

When you are close to your parents, it’s hard to judge their competency accurately. Your dad, who was the perfect driver, suddenly isn’t quite as good behind the wheel as he used to be. Or your mother, who never left the house without being perfectly groomed, seems to have become a little casual about her appearance. They aren’t big changes, but the change is rarely sudden.

Other examples can be if your father forget to pay a bill…. or forgot that you called him yesterday. You recognize all this and ask if he is okay. He doesn’t think there’s a problem.

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