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What Happens If a Person Changes Their Will While Suffering from Dementia?


An early part of the process of probate involves publicly reading the deceased person’s will.  Some family members might be pleasantly surprised to receive a greater share of the estate than they were expecting, while others might be in for a rude awakening; they might receive less than they had hoped, or nothing at all.  During probate, family members, creditors, and even total strangers may challenge the will or claim that the estate owes them money, as long as they can back up their claims with evidence.  Most probate cases run their course smoothly, and the estate settles within 18 months; cases where someone challenges the will are fairly uncommon.  Things can get complicated, however, if the testator suffered from memory loss or cognitive decline in his or her last years and the will dates from the time when he or she was losing cognitive function.  It is possible to challenge a will if you think that the testator signed it without understanding it.  An estate planning lawyer can help you avoid this situation with your own estate or those of your parents.

Legally Valid Reasons for Challenging a Will

The court will only accept a petition to challenge a will if that petition cites a legally valid reason for the challenge.  Undue influence and fraud are both legally valid reasons for challenging a will.  You might also argue that the testator’s signature is not valid because he or she was not healthy enough to understand the document he or she was signing.  Your case is especially strong if the testator wrote a will while he or she was still healthy but changed it while suffering from dementia and under the care of an unscrupulous caregiver, who may or may not be a family member.

How to Protect Your Family from Heartbreaking Probate Disputes

Finding out during probate that your family member was a victim of financial abuse while suffering from dementia only compounds the pain of the long process of grief.  You should start making plans now to protect your parents’ estates from this nightmare.  In fact, if you are old enough to think about estate planning for your parents, you are old enough to make plans for your own old age.  These are some things you can discuss with an estate planning lawyer to avoid probate disputes over whether the testator was healthy enough to consent to changes to the will:

  • Thoroughly investigate nursing homes and home healthcare services before engaging them
  • Specify in writing who you want your legal guardian to be if you ever need one
  • Write a will now, while you are healthy
  • Place some or all of your assets in a trust

An elder law and estate planning lawyer can help you with any of these.

Contact an Attorney Today for Help

Establishing a relationship with an elder law attorney can help you prevent elder abuse and legal disputes over estates and wills.  Contact Clearwater estate planning attorney William Rambaum to discuss your questions.


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