Miami Rescue Mission, Inc. v. Roberts, 943 So.2d 274, 31 Fla. L. Weekly D2979 (Fla. 3d DCA Nov 29, 2006)

In 1998 the 3d DCA held in Raimi v. Furlong, 702 So.2d 1273 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998), that just because you’re "insane" doesn’t mean you necessarily lack testamentary capacity if you happen to sign your will during a "lucid interval."  Based on this very tough standard for proving incapacity, the 3rd DCA overturned the trial court’s finding of incompetency as a matter of law because at trial the testifying neurologist was unable to determine if the testator was lucid or not at the precise moment she executed the contested will. Here’s the key text from Raimi:

It has long been emphasized that the right to dispose of one’s property by will is highly valuable and its is the policy of the law [in Florida] to hold a last will and testament good wherever possible. To execute a valid will, the testator need only have testamentary capacity (i.e., be of “sound mind”) which has been described as having the ability to mentally understand in a general way (1) the nature and extent of the property to be disposed of, (2) the testator’s relation to those who would naturally claim a substantial benefit from his will, and (3) a general understanding of the practical effect of the will as executed. A testator may still have testamentary capacity to execute a valid will even though he may frequently be intoxicated, use narcotics, have an enfeebled mind, failing memory, [or] vacillating judgment. Moreover, an insane individual or one who exhibits “queer conduct” may execute a valid will as long as it is done during a lucid interval. Indeed, it is only critical that the testator possess testamentary capacity at the time of the execution of the will.

Fast forward to 2006.  In an apparent retreat from its own "lucid interval" standard, in the linked-to opinion the 3d DCA now seems to be saying lack of testamentary capacity can be established by "clear and convincing" evidence regarding the testator’s general health and mental wellbeing in the days leading up to the will signing.  Although the 3d DCA does cite to Raimi for a procedural point, it never discusses why the "lucid interval" standard it applied in that case apparently does not apply in this case.  Instead, the 3d DCA reaches back to Florida Supreme Court precedents from 1919 and 1933 to support its current ruling.

“Where there is an insane delusion in regard to one who is the object of the testator’s bounty, which causes him to make a will he would not have made but for that delusion, the will cannot be sustained.” Newman v. Smith, 77 Fla. 633, 667 and 688, 82 So. 236, 236 (1919). Further, “an insane delusion has been defined as a spontaneous conception and acceptance as a fact of that which has no real existence except in imagination. The conception must be persistently adhered to against all evidence and reason.” Hooper v. Stokes, 107 Fla. 607, 145 So. 855, 856 (1933).

Lesson learned?

The 3d DCA notes that the trial judge, Celeste Hardee Muir, entered a 22-page order "carefully" explaining the evidence she relied on in reaching her conclusion to revoke the testator’s latest will on incapacity grounds.  That’s probably the key line in this opinion.  It’s tough (maybe impossible?) to reconcile the 3d DCA’s ruling in Raimi with its current ruling in the linked-to case. I would guess the differing outcomes may be the result of an extremely compelling set of facts in the latest case.  So is this case an example of "bad facts making bad law" or a concious retreat from the lucid-interval standard?  Who knows, the 3d DCA certainly didn’t discuss the point.  Not exactly concrete guidance for future litigants and their attorneys .  .  .