Can You Contest a Will In Texas On the Grounds Of Insane Delusion?

Insane delusion is one of the lesser used grounds to contest a will under Texas law, but is available as a grounds to contest a decedent’s will in select circumstances.

What Is the Definition Of an Insane Delusion For Purposes Of a Texas Will Contest?

An insane delusion is when a testator believes a state of supposed facts that:

  1. Do not exist, and
  2. No rational person would believe to be true.

An insane delusion will contest is different than a will contest based upon a lack of testamentary capacity under Texas law.  For insane delusion, there must be a nexus between the insane delusion and the testamentary disposition.  The specific insane delusion must impact the disposition under the will.  For example, if the testator believed that her daughter was the wicked witch of the west, and as a result of such belief left everything to a neighbor, the daughter might have a shot at invalidating the will based upon insane delusion.

In Bauer v. Estate of Bauer, the Court of Appeals of Texas, Houston stated:

An insane delusion has been defined in Texas as “the belief of a state of supposed facts that do not exist, and which no rational person would believe.”  A will contestant is entitled to an instruction on insane delusion if there is any evidence of probative force which, with the inferences that may reasonably be drawn therefrom, will support a finding that the testator was laboring under such a delusion which affected the terms of the will.  Lindley v. Lindley.

Insane Delusion Must Impact The Will

In Gulf Oil Corporation v. Walker, the Court stated:

The general rule is that where general insanity is not shown, but only some specific insane delusion or monomania, the will is valid unless the terms of it appear to have been directly influenced by the infirmity.  The mental error must have been actually operative in the production of the instrument. “A man may believe himself to be the supreme ruler of the universe and nevertheless make a perfectly sensible disposition of his property, and the courts will sustain it when it appears that his mania did not dictate its provisions. (internal citations omitted).

What Are Some Examples of Texas Insane Delusion Will Contest Cases?

In Bauer v. Estate of Bauer, the Court of Appeals of Texas, Houston, discussed a range of Texas insane delusion will contest cases:

Perhaps the classic Texas case on insane delusion is Rodgers v. Fleming, 3 S.W.2d 77 (Tex. Comm.App.1928, holding adopted). In Rodgers the testator believed that his nephew was going to kill him for his property. The testator had taken up carrying a pistol as a consequence of his belief. He also believed that astronomers were on the verge of discovering the location of the gates of heaven.

The false beliefs in Rodgers, then, concerned the nephew’s intent to commit a specific act and the capacity of University of Texas astronomers to locate a specific place, heaven; in other words, to perform a specific action, to cause an actual occurrence. Thus precedent only exists for declaring as an insane delusion a belief which can be judged true or false by reference to the physical world or to the realm of specific acts and intentions.

In keeping with the spirit of Rodgers is Green v. Goans, 458 S.W.2d 705 (Tex.Civ. App.—El Paso, writ ref’d n.r.e. 464 S.W.2d 104 (Tex.1970). The testator in Green who had moved in to a room adjoining the house of his close friends, suddenly developed the belief that these friends were trying to kill him. Similarly, in Lindley v. Lindley, 384 S.W.2d 676 (Tex.1964), the testatrix’s son had suffered a complete mental breakdown. He was taken to a hospital where it became necessary to tie him to his bed. The testatrix, who was 93 years old, saw this happen, and when the son died shortly thereafter, she developed the notion that the hospital and her two other children had caused the son’s death and adjusted her will accordingly. The court in Lindley held that appellant was, under those facts, entitled to an instruction on insane delusion. In Spruance v. Northway, 601 S.W.2d 153 (Tex.Civ.App.—Waco 1980, writ ref’d n.r.e.), also cited by appellant, the testatrix believed that the appellee had put her in the hospital and was trying to get her property.

 

In Bauer, the Texas Court decided that a perceived “lack of family love” is not a basis for an insane delusion challenge, because it is an intangible sensation which does not fall within that class of beliefs about which a judgment as to insane delusion can reasonably be made.

A Texas will contest based upon insane delusion must be based on a specific belief which can be judged as true or false, not a feeling or other intangible sensation.  Although insane delusion cases are not the most common ground for a Texas will contest, they can exist under the right circumstances.  Read about other Texas will contests here, here, and here.