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In order to have testamentary capacity, the testator must have sufficient strength and clearness of mind and memory, to know, in general, without prompting, the nature and extent of the property of which he is about to dispose, and the nature of the act which he is about to perform, and the names and identity of the persons who are to be the objects of his bounty, and his relation towards them. He must have sufficient mind and memory to understand all of these facts. He must also be able to appreciate the relations of these factors to one another, and to recollect the decision which he has formed. This inquiry is directed to the testator's condition of mind at the very time he signs the will.
Lawrence Thomas, Erma Thomas' son and executor of her estate, applied to Hettinger County Court for formal probate of the will and codicil. Thereafter, objection was made to probate by Rosella Belland, et al., (Erma's other heirs) on three grounds: (1) that Erma lacked testamentary capacity to make such will and codicil; (2) that Erma was subject to undue influence; and (3) that the will and codicil were not executed in accordance with the statutory requirements in effect at the time of execution. The County court rejected the will and codicil for probate. Lawrence Thomas appealed the county court decision to district court, where the issues were tried anew. The district court found the will and codicil valid and admitted them to probate. This appeal followed.
Did Erma have the testamentary capacity to make a will and codicil?
The court found the heirs' arguments without merit. The decedent's attorney testified that the decedent knew what the value of her property was, where her property was, and where she wanted it to go. He and the decedent discussed the matter of the two named beneficiaries who had passed away. There was no evidence that the decedent was not able or willing to make the ultimate decisions on her own. Further, there was little relevance between actions the decedent took in the seven years after the execution of her will to the issue of whether or not she was subject to undue influence at the time of the execution of her will. The decedent, by her words and conduct, made known to the witnesses that the instruments she was signing were her will and codicil, and that she wanted them to act as her witnesses.