The concept of an insane delusion appears in several branches of the law, including contracts, gifts, and wills. Critics of the traditional doctrine have made compelling arguments in favor of its modification or abolition in the context of wills, given that it is often used as an excuse to substitute the values of jurors for those of the testator. Moreover, recent scientific studies have shown correlations between delusions and other cognitive impairments, calling into question the need for an independent doctrine of insane delusion. Nevertheless, there is evidence that not all deluded individuals have additional cognitive biases, and those who do may have some impairments while lacking others. Due to the nature of gratuitous transfers, adoption of the fairness-based approach to mental illness in the Restatement (Second) of Contracts is not a feasible alternative to the traditional insane delusion doctrine for wills. This Article accordingly proposes a new use for the concept of a delusion in making legal determinations regarding mental capacity in the context of wills. The concept would be better formulated as a doctrine of partial sanity, used when a testator is found to lack general mental capacity, and only as a basis for upholding all or part of a will. Under such a rule, the issue of a testator’s general mental capacity would be decided first. If the person in question had general mental capacity, the will would be held valid. But if the person did lack general mental capacity, the court could consider whether the lack of capacity was caused by a delusion, and, if so, whether that delusion actually affected the disposition of the estate. To the extent that a particular decision by the deluded individual was not the product of irrational decision making, the choice would be respected. This would preserve, in modified form, a legal concept that has existed for centuries and remains relevant in modern science, without giving excessive license to courts and juries to second-guess the lifestyles and eccentricities of individuals.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Tate on Delusion in Law and Science
Joshua C. Tate, Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, has posted Personal Reality: Delusion in Law and Science, which is forthcoming in the Connecticut Law Review 49 (2017):