Court Confirms Requirements for a Valid Will

Court Confirms Requirements for a Valid Will

In ruling on a recent will challenge, the Mississippi Court of Appeals restated the requirements for a valid last will and testament and what is required to make or overcome a successful challenge to a will.
Mary Lou Froemel, a resident of DeSoto County, executed her last will and testament in 2014. When she executed the will, Mary Lou initialed each page and signed it. The will contained an attestation clause with the signatures of two witnesses: the attorney and his secretary. Mary Lou died in 2015. Her will was admitted to probate in 2016.
In her will Mary Lou left $20,000 to her friend Karen Cole, $20,000 to the Disabled Veterans of America, and the residue of her estate in trust for the benefit of Charlie McNeal, for the remainder of his natural life. McNeal had performed some home repairs and yard work for Mary Lou and had driven her on a few occasions when she had broken her ankle. Upon McNeal’s death, any assets remaining in the trust were to go to Mary Lou’s grandson, Maxwell Froemel. Mary Lou’s son, Daren Froemel, filed a will contest, alleging that Mary Lou lacked testamentary capacity at the time she executed the will. (If Mary died without a valid will in Mississippi, her assets would pass to her surviving children.)
Cole, McNeal and the executor of the will, Danny Williams, argued that Mary Lou possessed testamentary capacity at the time she executed the will at issue. The trial judge agreed and ruled in favor of the will, and Daren appealed.
Daren argued that because Mary Lou had been hospitalized for altered mental status a few weeks prior to executing the will and held prescriptions for twenty-two medications, “[c]learly a genuine issue of material fact exists as to [Mary Lou’s] testamentary capacity at the time of the execution of her will . . . .” For a will to be valid, the testator must possess testamentary capacity. Testamentary capacity is determined based on three factors: whether the testator had the ability at the time of the will to understand and appreciate the effects of his act; whether the testator had the ability at the time of the will to understand the natural objects or persons to receive his bounty (assets) and their relation to him; and whether the testator was capable of determining at the time of the will what disposition he desired to make of his property.
Here, the beneficiaries offered the will, and it was admitted to probate. This established a prima facie case that the will was valid and that Mary Lou had had testamentary capacity at the time she signed it. The admission of a will to probate establishes a presumption that it is valid. A valid will in Mississippi must be in the testator’s own handwriting and signed at the bottom by the testator, or must be accompanied by the affidavits of two witnesses who were with the testator when the will was signed and who each signed the will as witnesses. In this case, those requirements were met. The burden was then placed on Daren, as the contestant of the will, to bring forth proof that Mary Lou had lacked testamentary capacity when she executed it. The Court found that Daren offered no testimony by affidavit, deposition, or otherwise regarding Mary Lou’s testamentary capacity. Therefore, Mary Lou’s assets would pass as she directed in her will.
Froemel v. Estate of Froemel, No. 2017-CA-00488-COA
https://courts.ms.gov/Images/Opinions/CO129209.pdf
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