Sound Mind Definition
A number of Colorado court cases have discussed the meaning of sound mind. In 2000, the Colorado Supreme Court addressed the “sound mind” definition regarding testamentary capacity in Breeden v. Stone.
The Court discussed two legal standards, the “Cunningham Test” (Cunningham v. Stender, 1953) and the “Insane Delusion Test” (Cole’s Estate, 1924 and Hanks v. McNeil Coal Corp, 1946).
The Cunningham Test includes five elements. The testator must:
(1) understand the nature of his/her act;
(2) know the extent of his/her property;
(3) understand the proposed testamentary disposition (consequences);
(4) know the “natural objects of his/her bounty” (natural heirs); and
(5) know that the will represents his/her wishes.
Insane Delusion Test
The Insane Delusion Test refers to “a persistent belief” that materially affects the preparation or dispositions of the will, “in that which has no existence in fact and which is adhered to against all evidence.”
Insane delusion is considered as a common law tradition used to describe a false sense of reality that a testator of a will adheres to, against all reason and evidence on the contrary.
The definition of an insane delusion is contained in Colorado Jury Instruction 34:10, which defines it as “a persistent belief, resulting from illness or disorder, in the existence or non-existence of something which is contrary to all evidence.” CJI-Civ. 4th 34:10.
In the Cole case, 1924, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a party asserting that a testator was suffering from an insane delusion must meet the burden of showing that the testator suffered from such delusion.
In In re Robertson’s Estate (1948), the Supreme Court of Oklahoma held that a testator who declared that he had “no children” and “no deceased children” in his will, when he actually had two living children, was suffering from an insane delusion, as the testator had “no rational basis whatsoever” to declare that he had no children.
In the Hanks case, 1946, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that irrational behavior in one matter, such as a contract, does not necessarily mean that the testator is incapacitated in another matter, such as for the purpose of making a will.
Delusions do not mean incapacity if they do not materially affect the making and disposition in the will. The afflicted party must be incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the agreement, or of acting rationally in the transaction. Delusions often take the form of monomania or paranoia.
In Hanks, the Court noted that contractual capacity and testamentary capacity are the same.
The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the two standards for determining sound mind were not mutually exclusive. Prescription medications or other drugs might also interfere with mental state, causing the signer to be under the influence of drugs.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that sound mind “includes the presence of the Cunningham factors and the absence of insane delusions that materially affect the will. . . .”
Only licensed medical and psychological professionals may make a medical diagnosis of mental incompetence. We are presumed to be mentally competent unless proven otherwise.
Notaries should check for awareness, which is understanding of the purpose and consequences of signing a document. Coherent responses to questions show awareness.
Notaries should also check for willingness, that the signer is signing voluntarily, without coercion, duress, pressure, or undue influence by another person.
[Disclaimer: This article is not legal advice. Contact an attorney for legal advice and questions on sound mind, incapacity and mental competence.]