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In re Estate of Wright

    Brief Fact Summary. Appellant appeals from a judgment wherein the petition to admit decedent’s will to probate was denied on the ground of testamentary incapacity.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The legal presumption is always in favor of sanity, especially after attestation by subscribing witnesses and it is the duty of the subscribing witnesses to be satisfied of the testator’s sanity before they subscribe the instrument.

    Facts. On May 2, 1933, Lorenzo B. Wright, decedent, died and was survived only by his daughter, Maud Wright Angell, appellant. The petition for probate alleges decedent’s estate, which consists of two unimproved parcels of land, an interest in an estate in Salt Lake City, his former home, and inconsequential personal property, does not exceed the sum of $10,000. Decedent’s will was formally executed sixteen months prior to his death and devised to his friend, Charlotte Josephine Hindmarch, his house at 722 Nowita Place and all his personal belongings, and devised to appellant the house located at 724 Nowita Place, and to his granddaughter, Marjorie Jean Angell, his interest in an estate in Salt Lake City. He gave his grandson, his son-in-law, and several other persons one dollar each. A notary public, a realtor and the two subscribing witnesses to the will testified that they were of the opinion that decedent was of unsound mind at the time the will was executed. The witnesses
    based their opinions on mere trivialities. Decedent’s will was denied admission to probate on the ground of testamentary incapacity. Appellant appeals.

    Issue. Whether or not the court erred when they denied admitting decedent’s will into probate based on the ground of testamentary incapacity?

    Held. Yes. Judgment and order reversed.
    There’s no evidence that the decedent suffered from settled insanity, hallucinations or delusions. Testamentary capacity cannot be destroyed by showing a few isolated acts, idiosyncrasies, moral or mental irregularities, or departures from the norm unless they directly bear upon and have influenced the testamentary act. The opinions of those who testified that decedent was not of sound mind rest upon testimony of the most trivial character and don’t establish testamentary incapacity at the time decedent executed his will.


    Discussion. A duty attaches to a witness to satisfy himself of the competency of the party before he gives his name to attest the act. Similar to a magistrate that makes an acknowledgement of a deed, he is to be reasonably assured of the facts he undertakes to verify or else he makes himself instrumental in a fraud upon the public.


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