Brief Fact Summary. Testator executed a will leaving his property to a good friend’s widow. The will was contested on the grounds that testator did not know the natural objects of his bounty as he believed the two children of his ex-wife were not his.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A mistaken belief is not a grounds for finding lack of testamentary capacity as long as there is some rational basis for that belief, however slight.
Testator married Aimee Neresheimer in 1899. Several years later the couple had a son and daughter in Europe. When the couple returned to the United States the testator went to work for his father-in-law. A year later in 1906 the testator’s wife, Aimee, asked for a divorce. Aimee remarried a family friend and an affidavit made by the testator stated that the she confessed to him that the two children were not his. The two children did not communicate with the testator for the next thirty years prior to his death. Testator left a will leaving his property to Mrs. Clement Griscom, a widow of his good friend. The testator’s children allege the testator suffered from an insane delusion as he did not know the true objects of his bounty. The will was denied probate and the Appellant now appeals.
Issue. Whether there is any rational basis, however slight, for the testator’s belief that he was not the father of the children of his divorced wife, thus showing he did not lack testamentary capacity?
Held. Yes. Reversed. Based on the facts there is a rational basis for the testator’s belief and therefore he had a the capacity to execute his will.
Dissent. Points of Law - for Law School Success
The well-settled rule in this class of cases is that if there be more than a mere scintilla of evidence tending to show incompetency to make a will and of such a character that different inferences may fairly be drawn therefrom, the case must be decided as one of fact and if the trial be before a jury it must be left with the jury. View Full Point of Law
There is ample evidence to support a verdict of the jury that the testator was not of sound mind at the time of the execution of his will. The testator’s ex-wife testified that she did not tell the testator that the children were not his and therefore the jury could conclude that the testator suffered from an insane delusion in so far as the children were concerned. Discussion.
The Court notes that a mistaken belief on the part of a testator does not necessarily establish that the testator lacked capacity. People often makes illogical or incorrect conclusions based on prejudices or peculiar constructions of their mind but a will does not required that the testator be able to reason free from this. The Court finds that the testator may have mistakenly believed the children were not his but that this is not an insane delusion showing a lack of testamentary capacity.