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A will is not valid without testamentary capacity

On Behalf of | Dec 7, 2023 | Estate Planning |

The Florida estate planning process can be basic or highly complex, depending on the value of a person’s estate, as well as other issues, including instructions for asset distribution or other goals an estate owner might have in mind. Instructions for asset distribution are typically in a document known as a last will and testament. Some states (not including this one) also recognize holographic (hand-written) or nuncupative (oral) wills. In all 50 states, however, a testator (person executing a will) must show testamentary capacity at the time.

If you are executing a will, you must have a sound mind and be able to use reasoning skills and make decisions. You must fully understand the value of your estate, including knowledge regarding specific assets and liabilities. You must be able to identify the family members, friends or other entities to whom you wish to leave an inheritance. Finally, you must understand the purpose of a will and the implications of it, meaning what will happen once you sign it. This understanding is known as testamentary capacity.

Testamentary capacity protects the integrity of your estate

If a person suffering from severe dementia signs a will, leaving his or her entire estate to a worker at a nursing home or a random person to whom he or she has no connection, it would understandably raise concerns as to whether the will is valid. If signs of dementia were present when someone signed a will, the court might determine the document to be invalid. If you are in line for an inheritance but believe that lack of testamentary capacity has corrupted the estate planning process, you may wish to challenge the will.

Once you have proven that the testator was not of sound mind, you must also show that lack of testamentary capacity caused him or her to write a will in an unfair or irrational manner. If you are not familiar with the probate process, it is wise to seek guidance and counsel before contesting a will to ensure that you have legitimate grounds to do so and can prove the necessary elements to show that the will in question is invalid.

How does assessment of testamentary capacity take place?

Assessment of testamentary capacity may occur in many ways. For example, if you are initiating the estate planning process and wish to incorporate a last will and testament, you may seek assessment of your own mental health status at the time by scheduling an appointment with a licensed physician. The results of the assessment will remain in your medical records, and this serves as evidence that you were of sound mind when you signed your will.

At other times, an assessment must occur after a testator has died when someone challenges a will. In such cases, a probate judge can tap into various resources, including testimony from doctors, psychologists, family members, friends and others who can provide information regarding the decedent’s mental status at the time he or she executed the document.