Breeden v. Stone
992 P.2d 1167 (2000)
- Breeden shot himself two days after he was involved in a highly publicized hit-and-run accident that killed the driver of the other vehicle. He left a handwritten note that read: “I want everything I have to go to Sydney Stone- houses, jewelwry, stocks, bonds, cloths. P.S. I was Not Driving the Vehical.”
- Stone offered the handwritten document for probate as the holographic will of Breeden.
- Several individuals filed objections to the holographic will, including Petitioners (Breeden’s brother, sister, and father), who alleged lack of testamentary capacity.
- Breeden had previously executed a formal will in 1991 and a left his estate to persons other than Stone.
The probate court formally admitted the decedent’s holographic will to probate:
- The court found that Petitioners did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that, because of Breeden’s chronic use of alcohol and drugs or their use between March 17 and 19, he was not of sound mind when he executed the holographic will.
- In addition, the court held that the stress and anxiety that compelled Breeden to commit suicide did not deprive him of testamentary capacity.
- The court also found that the decedent’s insane delusions regarding his friends, government agencies, and others, did not affect or influence the disposition of his property.
- The court relied on the will itself, which evidenced a sufficient understanding of the general nature of his property and the disposition under the will, the testimony of two doctors regarding the decedent’s motor skills at the time he wrote the will, evidence that the decedent had omitted his father and sister from his will in the past, and testimony from two friends that indicated the decedent had been considering revising his will in the future.
Did the probate court incorrectly merge the insane delusion test with the Cunningham elements test?
- The Cunningham and insane elusion tests are not mutually exclusive.
The Cunningham Test and the Insane Delusion Test are used to address the issue of what constitutes a sound mind.
(1) The Cunningham Test
Mental capacity to make a will requires that:
(1) the testator understands the nature of her act;
(2) she knows the extent of her property;
(3) she understands the proposed testamentary disposition;
(4) she knows the natural objects of her bounty; and
(5) the will represents her wishes.
(2) The Insane Delusion Test
- Definition: An insane delusion is ‘a persistent belief in that which has no existence in fact, and which is adhered to against all evidence.’
- Test: Before a will can be invalidated because of a lack of testamentary capacity due to an insane delusion, the insane delusion must materially affect the disposition in the will.
The tests are not mutually exclusive because a sound mind includes the presence of the Cunningham factors (general capacity) and the absence of insane delusions that materially affect the will.
- Thus, a contestant of a will may challenge a testator’s soundness of mind based on both or either of the Cunningham and insane delusion tests.
Here, the lower court thoroughly considered all of the evidence presented by the parties and concluded that (1) the testator met the Cunningham test for sound mind and (2) the insane delusions from which the decedent was suffering did not materially affect or influence his testamentary disposition.
Rule: A contestant of a will may challenge a testator’s soundness of mind based on both or either of the Cunningham and insane delusion tests.