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How can testamentary capacity factor into a will contest?

On Behalf of | Mar 19, 2024 | Probate litigation

It can be hard to experience the loss of a family member, but it could be even worse if you wonder if your relative was in the right mind when signing their will. Unfortunately, some people create a will under undue influence, and it can happen when the signer is suffering from diminished mental capacity.

A key question when determining if you should challenge a will in court is to figure out if the will signer suffered from a lack of testamentary capacity.

What is testamentary capacity?

Testamentary capacity defines the mental competence for creating a will. To have sufficient lucidity to compose and sign a will, the testator must comprehend a few key concepts. The person must understand what property and assets they own and the beneficiaries who will inherit them. The testator must also grasp how the will transfers property and how all the components of property, heirs and death work together.

When does someone lack testamentary capacity?

Simply being forgetful due to old age does not necessarily indicate a lack of testamentary capacity. However, certain cognitive impairments and mental disorders can prevent someone from having the legal capacity to create a valid will.

Examples include experiencing delusions or hallucinations or suffering dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, severe senility from aging, or impairment from brain injury, alcohol or drugs. A person with one of these conditions might fail to comprehend what they own, who should inherit it, the purpose of the will of transferring wealth at death, and how those pieces interrelate.

Losing mental competence can undermine testamentary capacity and open the door to challenges about the validity of the will. So if you suspect these circumstances exist in your family, probate litigation might be an option.