The Use of Medical Experts in Probate Cases and Challenges
Let’s say that you have a challenged, contested probate case. Like any lawsuit, winning the case involves the hiring, use and testimony of expert witnesses. But you may be surprised to learn that some of those expert witnesses you need to win your pronate case may be expert medical witnesses.
Why Doctors are Used in Probate Cases
You don’t initially think of doctors as experts in probate cases. After all, what does a doctor have to do with a challenge to a will or a trustee or other estate document?
But many challenges to estates, inheritances, and estate documents like wills, involve medical information. Take, for example, the following scenarios:
- A will was altered by the deceased, and family alleges that the alteration was done by the undue and excessive influence of an outsider, and that the deceased was not mentally competent enough to recognize, or resist, the influence
- A will or other estate document was created or altered by the deceased, and family believes that the deceased was not competent, mentally or physically to make the changes that were made, or to create the will in the first place
These are typical situations where wills and other estate documents are challenged, and each of them involves the then-existing mental or physical state of the deceased.
Those challenging estate documents may say that the deceased had “dementia” or “didn’t know what he was doing” when a will was made or changed—but those terms and phrases have little meaning, medically, without further substantiation.
Proving Mental Status or Diseases
But how does someone prove what someone’s mental state was, or what disabilities they had, or how those illnesses or disabilities affected them, in order to show that the creation or amending of an estate document should be overturned or invalidated?
The answer comes from doctors, and often the treating doctors of the deceased.
It is, of course, better to have doctors who actually treated the deceased. The deceased’s medical records may yield that the deceased had dementia, Alzheimer’s, or just that the deceased did not have a grasp on reality such to make informed decisions about his or her estate plan.
But it is often the case that people who pass away did not get medical care, or at least, not enough medical care, to show exactly how impaired the deceased was, at the time estate documents were made or created. In those cases, doctors may have to explain how a given illness or disease may have affected the deceased.
Rational Explanations or Rational Decisions
Making it even more difficult, some people suffer from impairments that affect their ability to logically explain or rationalize why they make certain changes to estate documents. Yet, they may have made those changes rationally, and without outside influence.
Other times, someone may be able to rationally explain changes that are being made—but the rationale itself is illogical, or clearly indicates signs of mental illness.
Medical professionals must be used in court, to explain these differences, and render an opinion on whether the deceased indeed knew what he or she was doing, when creating or making wills and other estate documents.
Need help with a contested probate case? Call the West Palm Beach probate lawyers at The Law Offices of Larry E. Bray today for help with any will or estate challenge in probate court.