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Case Law Update: “Insane Delusion” in the context of a Will Contest

Posted Wednesday, October 23, 2019 by Christopher L. Thayer

In Rai-Choudhury v. Inslee (78696-2-1, 10/21/19, Division I), the daughter of a decedent challenged her mother’s updated Last Will and Testament, contending her mother was suffering from an “insane delusion” which materially affected her mother’s disposition of her estate property in her Will. In the year prior to Margaret Rai-Choudhury’s death, she executed an updated Will, which excluded her daughter, Indira Rai-Choudhury as a beneficiary. Indira contended her mother was suffering from mental health problems after a fall and a head injury at the time her mother executed the updated Will and the Will should therefore be invalidated.

"Where a will, rational on its face, is shown to have been executed in legal form, the law presumes that the testator had testamentary capacity and that the will speaks [their] wishes." In re Meagher's Estate, 60 Wn.2d 691, 692, 375 P.2d 148 (1962). The party challenging the will bears the burden of establishing invalidity by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence. Meagher, 60 Wn.2d at 692. When determining whether a party meets this burden in the context of summary judgment, we "must determine whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, a rational trier of fact could find that the nonmoving party supported [their] claim with clear, cogent, and convincing evidence." Woody v. Stapp, 146 Wn. App. 16, 22, 189 P.3d 807 (2008). A party presents clear, cogent and convincing evidence when they show the ultimate fact in issue to be highly probable. In re Estate of Watlack, 88 Wn. App. 603,610, 945 P.2d 1154 (1997).

A court may invalidate a will if a party shows by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that at the time the testator executed the will, they suffered under an insane delusion that materially affected the disposition of the will. Watlack, 88 Wn. App. at 609-10. Regarding what constitutes an insane delusion, Washington courts have stated as follows:

An "insane delusion" is not well defined by case law. It has been defined as a false belief, which would be incredible in the same circumstances to the victim if [they] were of sound mind, and from which [they] cannot be dissuaded by any evidence or argument. It was later described as a condition of such "aberration as indicates an unsound or deranged condition of the mental faculties .... A belief resulting from a process of reasoning from existing facts will not be an insane delusion, regardless of whether the reasoning is imperfect or the conclusion illogical.

Watlack, 88 Wn. App. at 610. Thus, "[a] prejudice or dislike that a testator might have for a relative is not ground for setting aside a will unless the prejudice and dislike cannot be explained on any other ground than that of an insane delusion." In re Trust & Estate of Melter, 167 Wn. App. 285, 312 (2012).

Indira claimed her mother suffered from an insane delusion because Margaret (1) believed the CIA was tracking her, and (2) stopped talking to Indira in May 2015. It is noteworthy that Margaret’s estate presented declarations from Margaret’s long-time financial advisor and her lawyer who both attested that Margaret appeared to be of sound mind when she executed her Will – and that she had mentioned for some period of time that she was considering writing her daughter (Indira) out of her Will.

First, as to delusions about the CIA, Indira presented evidence of her mother having paranoia and beliefs regarding the CIA around May 2015. Margaret, however, did not execute her will until July and Indira did not submit any evidence to suggest that such delusions existed at the time Margaret executed her July 2015 Will. Indira also failed to explain how any delusions about the CIA would cause Margaret to disinherit her.

Second, as to Margaret not speaking to Indira, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Indira, she and her mother had a good relationship. They expressed love for each other on the phone and through emails and cards. Indeed, Margaret included Indira in the Will she executed in 1999. But in May 2015, Margaret stopped speaking to Indira. Though the evidence shows a deterioration of Indira's relationship with her mother in May 2015, Indira failed to provide evidence an insane delusion affected the disposition in her Mother’s Will.

It appears the daughter likely lost this case due to lack of proof, which would satisfy the requirements for a Will Contest. It does appear her mother experienced some mental health issues, but the daughter was unable to provide proof such mental health issues correlated with the decision to write her daughter out of the Will. It may well be there is more to the story than we will ever know. This case should be used merely as a reference point as to how difficult it can be to invalidate a Will.

Should you have any questions about this case or you have questions about potentially seeking to invalidate a Will, please feel free to contact Chris Thayer at (206) 805-1494 or CThayer@PivotalLawGroup.com