Law School Case Brief
Estate of Mann - 184 Cal. App. 3d 593, 229 Cal. Rptr. 225 (1986)
The determinants of testamentary capacity are whether the individual has sufficient mental capacity to be able to understand the nature of the act he is doing, and to understand and recollect the nature and situation of his property and to remember, and understand his relations to, the persons who have claims upon his bounty and whose interests are affected by the provisions of the instrument.
An elderly woman who was in the care of a conservator, her nephew, executed a will by which she left him the bulk of her estate. After her death, another nephew contested the will. The trial court entered judgment revoking probate of the will after the jury found that decedent was of unsound mind when she executed the will and that execution of the will was obtained through the conservator's undue influence.
Was the will in question invalid for having been executed by the decedent who was of unsound mind at the time of the execution?
The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the evidence, including testimony of a physician that decedent's mental state fluctuated and that the conservatorship was set up to protect her from her worst times, was insufficient to overcome the presumption that she was sane and competent at the time of executing the will. Further, the court held, evidence that the conservator urged decedent to make a will, took her to his attorney, was present when the will was executed, and possibly discussed with her the revocation clause was not sufficient to support the findings that the conservator unduly benefited under the will or actively participated in procuring its execution. Finally, the court held, it was prejudicial error to have failed to give the conservator's proposed instruction on undue influence, since the jury was in need of guidance, the definitions of the terms in the court's general instruction on presumption of undue influence were not self-evident, and the facts were such that the jury could easily have based its verdict on improper factors.
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