The following will was filed for probate. The trial court found that the testator was incompetent. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court and found that the testator was competent.
Here is an excerpt from the opinion of the court: “An examination of all this testimony convinces us beyond serious doubt that at the time he made this will, Emanuel Kerchner was competent and in possession of his mental faculties to such an extent that he knew well the property which he possessed, the indebtedness due him, his relation to his kindred, his duty toward such kindred. That he knew the diposition which he desired to make of his property and that the will which he executed expressed his intentions. We are particularly impressed with that testimony of George L. Cook, who drew the will; of Dr. W. H. Harris, one of the attesting witnesses, and of L. E. McClure, the executor. It appears that upon the recommendation of a friend, who was in no wise interested, the deceased went to Cook and stated to him that he desired to have his will drawn. Cook had known Emanuel Kerchner for a number of years, but had not been connected with him in any way, and as far as the testimony goes had not attended to any business for him. Emanuel Kerchner came into Cook’s office on the 17th day of April, 1920, by himself. It does not appear that any person came to town with him. He stated plainly and with clearness to Mr. Cook the property which he had and the disposition which he desired to make of it by will. He acted and talked normally, talked with Cook about his relations. Cook took down with pencil the instructions given him as to the provisions of the will, read them over to Kerchner and asked him if they met his approval. He said they were exactly what he wanted; stated that he held a note against Nick Kerchner and desired to give him that note; that Harry Burns had treated him more kindly than his own son. Cook then drew the will on the typewriter, read it over to Kerchner. It was satisfactory. Dr. W. H. Harris, the physician who knew Kerchner well, and had treated him for many years, was called as one witness to the will, and Dr. Tibbets as another witness. Both of those men had offices in the same building where the will was drawn. They were requested by Kerchner to witness the will when he had stated to them that it was his last will and testament. They did so, and Kerchner then took the will and went away.
¶17 Dr. W. H. Harris, one of the attesting witnesses, had been acquainted with Kerchner for 25 years. Had seen his frequently during that time and had acted as his physician. He testified that his mental condition did not change from the time he first became acquainted with him up to the time he saw him a short time before his death, and Dr. Harris attended him in his last illness. L. E. McClure, the executor and a banker, had known Kerchner since 1912. Kerchner had kept his papers in that bank. Kerchner brought his will to McClure in the bank on the date it was executed, told him that it was his will and he wanted it put away for safekeeping. McClure put the will in Kerchner’s safety box with the rest of his papers and after Kerchner’s death broke the seal on the envelope, brought the will to Alva and turned it over to the county judge. McClure was acquainted with Kerchner in a business way. Deceased Kerchner had kept an account at McClure’s bank for years and always transacted his own business without the assistance of any one. When he brought the will to McClure there was no one with him, He transacted business with the bank just the same afterwards as before the will was deposited there. McClure says that the deceased was entirely capable of carrying on his business, understood the nature of all business transactions, and the value and extent of his property, and that he noticed no difference in the deceased from the time he first became acquainted with him until the last time he saw him, shortly before his death.
¶18 The substance of this testimony as to the normal condition of the mind of Emanuel Kerchner is sustained by the testimony of many witnesses, all of whom had thorough opportunity to judge of his condition during many years and up to the time of the making of his will and up to the time of his death. All this testimony has convinced us that the testator, Kerchner, was at the time of making this will of sound mind, and the testimony introduced by the protestant does not, in our judgment, when considered in its most favorable aspects, reach the point where it raises in our mind any serious doubt as to the competency of the testator. We therefore find that the judgment of the trial court upon this branch of the case was not sustained by sufficient evidence and was against the great weight of the evidence.”
The will in question is as follows:
“Know All Men by These Presents: That I, Emanuel J. Kerchner of Kiowa, in the county of Barber, in the state of Kansas, being in good health (or ill health) and of sound and disposing mind and memory, do make and publish this, my last will and testament, hereby revoking all former wills by me made; and as to my worldly estate and all the property, real, personal or mixed, of which I shall die seized and possessed, or to which I shall be entitled at the time of my decease, I devise, bequeath and dispose thereof in the manner following, to wit:
“First: That all my funeral expenses, and any expense occurring from sickness, be paid in full out of the proceeds of my estate.
“Second: To my grandson, Harry Burns, I bequeath the school land, being the northeast quarter of section thirty-six (36), township twenty-nine (29), range thirteen (13) in the county of Woods, Oklahoma; Provided that he assume and pay all assessments due the government as it becomes due.
“Third: To my son, Nick K. Kerchner, I bequeath one promissory note, the amount being
$1,470.50, dated April 10, 1917; also one promissory note, being in amount $ 500, dated May 25th, 1918; also any bills I may have paid out for improvement on his school land in Harper county, Okla.
“Fourth: To my daughter, Ninnie Burns, I bequeath the sum of ten dollars ($ 10.00).
“Fifth: To my grandson, Harry Burns, I bequeath the southeast quarter of twenty-five (25), township twenty-nine (29), range thirteen (13) in the county of Woods, Okla., provided, that he pays Nick K. Kerchner the sum of eleven hundred and seventy-three dollars and 50-100 (1,173.50), the same to be paid in two equal payments of five hundred eighty-six and 75-100 dollars ($ 586.75) the first payment one year after my decease, and the second one year thereafter.
“Sixth: All moneys or bonds that I may have are to be equally divided with my son Nick K. Kerchner and my grandson, Harry Burns.
“And lastly, I do nominate and appoint L. E. McClure to be the executor of this, my last will and testament.
“In Witness Whereof. I, the said Emanuel J. Kerchner, have to this, my last will and testament, subscribed my name…”
The Supreme Court reversed the trial court and found that the testator was competent. It is important that the appellant court noted the important badges of competency of an individual to make a will. These are: (1) he knew well the property which he possessed; (2) the indebtedness due him; (3) his relation to his kindred; (4) his duty toward such kindred; (5) he knew the diposition which he desired to make of his property; (6) the will which he executed expressed his intentions.
The Supreme Court affirmed the following legal principles in reaching its decision:
A testator has a sound mind for testamentary purposes when he can understand and carry in mind, in a general way, the nature and situation of his property and his relations to those who naturally have some claim to his remembrance and to those in whom and the things in which he has been chiefly interested.
The testator must have sufficient memory to comprehend the conditions of his property and his relations to the objects of his bounty, but the fact that the memory of an old person has failed somewhat does not of itself invalidate his will, as occasional lapses of memory, mere decay or feebleness of memory or absent mindedness, ought not to invalidate a will unless amounting under our general rule to a mental incapacity to collect the particulars essential to a just testamentary disposition.
A presumption of sanity goes with everyone, and the burden of proving unsoundness of mind in a will contest rests on the contestant.
From this case certain “Badges of Competency” are evident. First, there is an overall presumption that a will properly executed (you need an attorney to make sure this is done correctly) was competently executed. There is a presumption of sanity, or competency. The burden to prove that someone was not competent is on the objector to the will.
Second, no one has to be perfect mentally to make a valid will. A good enough memory is OK. It does not have to perfect. Forgetfulness is allowed. Did the will maker understand what he or she owned. Who his or her relatives were and who would be his or her natural objects of his love and affection.
It is good enough to know in a general way what is owned, and the relationship with the natural objects of bounty or close family and friends. The Supreme Court stated these five “Badges of Competency” as follows: (1) To know in a general way the property owned; (2) To know in a general way his or her own business affairs; (3) To remember his or her relationship with close family and friends; (4) To understand that he or she has a duty toward close family; (5) To know and understand what he or she wanted to happen with the estate after death.
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