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Challenging a will due to lack of capacity

On Behalf of | Sep 22, 2023 | Estate Planning

In California and beyond, if you want to execute a last will and testament or other legal documents regarding your estate, you must meet certain requirements for those documents to be valid and legally enforceable. There have been many cases where a family member of a decedent or other entity has stepped forward to challenge a will. In some cases, the reason stated for a challenge has been “lack of capacity.”

To create a valid will, you must demonstrate testamentary capacity. Such capacity basically refers to your ability to understand various issues, including but not limited to the true value of your estate. You must be of a sound mind when executing estate planning documents. You must show that you understand what you’re doing and that you understand the implications of your actions. For example, you must demonstrate your understanding that listing someone as a beneficiary to your estate means that he or she will inherit certain assets.

What does “of a sound mind” mean in estate planning?

If a doctor has diagnosed you with a mental illness that might cause you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do if you did not have the condition, it would constitute a lack of soundness in mind. You cannot execute or change an estate plan unless you can prove soundness of mind.  Someone who challenges your will might do so on the grounds that you had a mental illness that caused you to write certain things in your will or initiate certain documents that you would likely not have done if you were of a sound mind at the time.

Anyone making such a claim must produce evidence to prove it in court. As a testator (person executing a last will and testament), you may leave whatever assets you want to whomever you want, even if it comes as a shock to your loved ones or colleagues. Doing so does not necessarily mean you lacked testamentary capacity to sign a will. For example, a parent might leave a larger portion of his or her estate to one child over another. This doesn’t necessarily mean grounds exist to challenge capacity.

How to initiate a claim based on lack of testamentary capacity

If you wish to challenge someone’s will based on lack of testamentary capacity, you’ll want to gather evidence to support your claim before filing a petition in court. If the testator resided in California when he or she executed an estate plan, you must file your petition under the same jurisdiction. A probate court judge will determine whether your challenge has merit.