In California, a person who is under a conservatorship retains the right to make a will, unless he or she is found to lack testamentary capacity. California Probate law does not take away the conservatee’s right to make a will under Prob C §1871(c), but the question of whether a will created by a conservatee is valid, is a factual one, if there is no finding of lack of testamentary capacity.
Probate Code 1871 provides:
§ 1871. Nothing in this article shall be construed to deny a conservatee any of the following:
(a) The right to control an allowance provided under Section 2421.
(b) The right to control wages or salary to the extent provided in Section 2601.
(c) The right to make a will.
(d) The right to enter into transactions to the extent reasonable to provide the necessaries of life to the conservatee and the spouse and minor children of the conservatee and to provide the basic living expenses, as defined in Section 297 of the Family Code, to the domestic partner of the conservatee. [Amended by Stats. 2001, Ch. 893, Sec. 23. Effective January 1, 2002]”
The issue of testamentary capacity, by contrast, does not involve such issues.  “It is thoroughly established by a series of decisions that: ‘Ability to transact important business, or even ordinary business, is not the legal standard of testamentary capacity. …’ (Estate of Arnold  16 Cal.2d 573, 586 ….” (Estate of Powers (1947) 81 Cal.App.2d 480, 483-484 [184 P.2d 319]; Estate of Mann (1986) 184 Cal.App.3d 593, 605 [229 Cal.Rptr. 225].) Rather, testamentary capacity involves the question of whether, at the time the will is made, the testator “‘has sufficient mental capacity to understand the nature of the act he is doing, 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.'” (Estate of arnold (1940) 16 Cal.2d 573, 586 [107 P.2d 25], quoting Estate of Sexton (1926) 199 Cal. 759, 764 [251 P. 778]; Estate of Mann, supra, 184 Cal.App.3d at p. 602.) It is a question, therefore, of the testator’s mental state in relation to a specific event, the making of a will. [2b] While it is true that the existence of a conservatorship at the time a will was executed may have some bearing on the question of testamentary capacity in a will contest (see, e.g., Estate of Wochos (1972) 23 Cal.App.3d 47 [99 Cal.Rptr. 782]), appointment of a conservator is not an adjudication of testamentary incapacity. fn. 5
This is made clear by the conservatorship statute itself. Section 1872, subdivision (a) states: “Except as otherwise provided in this article, the appointment of a conservator of the estate is an adjudication that the conservatee lacks the legal capacity to enter into or make any transaction that binds or obligates the conservatorship estate.” A specific exception to this general rule of legal incapacity, however, is that the conservatee retains “[t]he right to make a will ….” (§ 1871, subd. (c).) . Estate of Powers (1947) 81 CA2d 480
If you have a Glendale family member or have filed a Petition for Conservatorship for a loved one or parent, you should investigate whether or not a will exists, and if it does not, consult with a conservatorship attorney regarding creating a will or trust for an incompetent person by using a substituted judgment petition.
If there is a doubt as to the conservatee’s testamentary capacity, a conservator may petition the court to create a will under a substituted judgment petition rules. The court in Murphy v Murphy (2008) 164 CA4th 376, held that a substituted-judgment order had collateral estoppel effect and therefore could not be challenged after the conservatee’s death.
What Standard Does The Court Look For In Finding Incompetency to Make a Will in California?
Under Probate Code
§ 6100.5. (a), an individual is not mentally competent to make a will if at the time of making the will either of the following is true:
(1) The individual does not have sufficient mental capacity to be able to (A) understand the nature of the testamentary act, (B) understand and recollect the nature and situation of the individual’s property, or (C) remember and understand the individual’s relations to living descendants, spouse, and parents, and those whose interests are affected by the will.
(2) The individual suffers from a mental disorder with symptoms including delusions or hallucinations, which delusions or hallucinations result in the individual’s devising property in a way which, except for the existence of the delusions or hallucinations, the individual would not have done.
(b) Nothing in this section supersedes existing law relating to the admissibility of evidence to prove the existence of mental incompetence or mental disorders.
(c) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), a conservator may make a will on behalf of a conservatee if the conservator has been so authorized by a court order pursuant to Section 2580. [Amended by Stats. 1995, Ch. 730, Sec. 8. Effective January 1, 1996]
If you are unsure that your loved one has the capacity to make a will, please call us with your questions. Call Mina Sirkin, at 818.340.4479 to consult with out attorney to determine if a conservatee can make a will.