A Texas will contestant is entitled to conduct discovery on matters relevant to the will and the opposition to it. When a Texas will contest is brought on the grounds of lack of mental or testamentary capacity, the Texas Estates Code specifically permits entitlement to medical records and the release of records relevant to the decedent’s condition before decedent’s death.
What Medical Records Is A Texas Will Contestant Entitled To?
A party in a Texas will contest is entitled to all communications or medical records relevant to the decedent’s condition before the decedent’s death. Section 55.101 of the Texas Estates Code states:
Notwithstanding Subtitle B, Title 3, Occupations Code, a person who is a party to a will contest or proceeding in which a party relies on the mental or testamentary capacity of a decedent before the decedent’s death as part of the party’s claim or defense is entitled to production of all communications or records relevant to the decedent’s condition before the decedent’s death.
A companion section, 55.102, obligates the person or institution in possession of the medical records to release the communications upon receipt of a subpoena without further authorization.
Section 55.102 states:
On receipt of a subpoena for communications or records described by Section 55.101 and a file-stamped copy of the will contest or proceeding described by that section, the appropriate physician, hospital, medical facility, custodian of records, or other person in possession of the communications or records shall release the communications or records to the requesting party without further authorization.
What Medical Records Are Relevant to a Lack of Capacity Claim?
Records surrounding the time period that the decedent executed the purported will are relevant to determine the decedent’s capacity to make a will. Under Texas law, a party is entitled to discovery that is relevant and calculated to lead to admissible evidence. The elements of testamentary capacity in Texas are that the testator must:
- Understand the effect of the will and generally understand the nature and extent of the testator’s property;
- Know their next of kin and the natural objects of their bounty;
- Have sufficient memory to collect in the testator’s mind the elements of the business to be transacted and to hold them long enough to at least perceive their obvious relation to each other and be able to form a reasonable judgment about them.
Medical records from around the time (both before and after) the execution of the challenged will are relevant to the issue of the decedent’s capacity. Medical records that show depression, confusion, memory problems, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, disorientation, and the need for assistance with the activities of daily living are relevant to a lack of capacity case.
The Texas Estates Code explicitly recognizes the relevant of a decedent’s medical records to a lack of testamentary capacity claim brought in a Texas will contest. Sections 55.101 and 102 help streamline the process of discovery of relevant information by expressly authorizing the release of medical records and information.