Breeden v. Stone

The Facts

  • T hand-wrote his will, which read, “I want everything I have to go to Sydney Stone – houses, jewelry, stocks, bonds, cloths…P.S. I was not Driving the Vehical”
  • T printed his name (Spicer H. Breeden) and signed beneath it.
  • T died March 19, 1996 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound two days after a hit and run in which the driver of the other car was killed
  • Sydney Stone (D) offered the note as a “holographic will”
  • T had a formal will executed in 1991 w/ a holographic codocil leaving his estate to other people

Procedural History

  • Ps are individuals who objected to the holographic will by claiming that T lacked the testamentary capacity
  • PC admitted holographic will to probate and found:
  • T used cocaine and alcohol for several years prior to his death
  • T had used alcohol and cocaine on March 17 and between March 17 and 19
  • T had consumed substantial alcohol proximate to the time of death
  • T’s mood were alternately euphoric, fearful, and depressed along with being excessively worried about threats against him and his dog.
  • T possessed the motor skills necessary to write his will
  • Stress and anxiety that drove T to shoot himself does not deprive him of testamentary capacity
  • Insane delusions about threats to himself did not affect or influence the disposition of his property

The Issue

  • Whether T lacked the testamentary capacity to validate the holographic will

The Rule

  • Cunningham test: Testamentary capacity exists when
  • T understands the nature of their act
  • T knows the extent of their property
  • T  understands the proposed testamentary disposition
  • T knows the natural objects of their bounty
  • The will represents T’s wishes
  • Insane Delusion test:
  • An insane delusion is a persistent belief which has no existence in fact and is adhered too against all evidence.
  • A party asserting that a T was suffering from an insane delusion must meet the burden of showing that the T suffered from such delusion.
  • Before a will can be invalidated because of a lack of testamentary capacity due to an insane delusion, the insane delusion must materially affect the disposition of the will.
  • These tests are not mutually exclusive.

The Holding/Disposition

  • No, affirmed

Court’s Reasoning

  • Cunningham test is applied in cases where the objectors argue that T lacked general testamentary capacity
  • ID test involves situations where T suffers from delusions that often take the form of monomania or paranoia.
  • Even if an insane delusion does not materially affect the disposition of the will (thus defeating the ID test), one must still show that the immaterial insane delusion passes the Cunningham “sound mind” test.

PC used both tests and determined T passed both

Leave a Reply