Within the parameter of estate law, the term Testamentary Capacity is a legal phrase that is used which describes the mental legal and ability of a person to be able to make a will that is valid. The premise is that any person who is making a will should be of sound enough judgment and mind so that they are fully aware of what it is they are doing when either leaving someone out or putting someone into their will. 

Contesting a will on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity

Any person who seeks to contest a will must be able to prove that the person who made it lacked testamentary capacity at the time of doing so. They need to be able to show, without doubt, that the person’s lack of testamentary capacity influenced their decision during the will making process. 

Typically, someone who is contesting a will is likely to receive more of the estate being left behind through intestate succession. This is the process whereby the estate of the deceased person is evenly distributed between insectary lines. They, therefore, have good reason to be able to show that the will is invalid, due to the fact that they would benefit more financially. However, anyone contesting a will needs to have some level of standing. This is to stop random people from slowing down probate by contesting wills.

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In order to be able to make a will, the level of mental capacity that is required is actually much lower than other capacity requirements for documents such as contracts. Where an individual lacks the capacity to make a will, the validity of the final document will be brought into question and disputed. The burden of truth when disputing a will based on a lack of testamentary capacity lies with the person or persons contesting it. They need to be able to provide convincing evidence that clearly shows that the individual’s mental capacity had a direct impact on the will.

Determining a lack of testamentary capacity

Upon the death of an individual, the will that they made is required to be proven within a court of law during the probate process. It is at this time that relatives and or beneficiaries are able to make challenges or even contest the will if it is believed that they have not received a proportion of the estate that is deemed to be fair. 

Some of the main reasons why people contest wills include the person making it not having testamentary capacity and or undue influence, i.e. the person making the will was coerced by someone else. 

It is assumed by the law that a deceased individual had the sufficient level of testamentary capacity to make their will and so any challenges that are made against it have to be able to prove to the court that this was not necessarily the case. However, doing this can be rather difficult, especially if the person who made the will died many years after doing so. 

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Evidence in the form of paperwork from a medical expert or testimony that reflects on the individual’s mental capacity and their state of mind at the time of making their will would be required in order to show that testamentary incapacity played a part. Potentially, these types of documents could go back many decades. 

The person making their will only needs to have a level of mental capacity that allows them to write it. A will does not become invalid just because the person who made it went on to lose their testamentary capacity at a later date. 

Being able to prove that the pearson who made a will was not in a sound state of mind is not necessarily an indication that being mentally incapacitated influenced the deceased person in making a will that was irrational or unfair. 

Indications and signs of mental incapacity

It is the job of the person contesting the lack of testamentary capacity that has to prove their claim. In order to do this, it is necessary that they provide evidence that is both convincing and clear, demonstrating that the person who made it did not have the right level of mental capacity. 

This can be achieved by proving that the person who made the will was suffering with a mental disorder of some sort at the time that directly impacted on their ability to fully understand what they were doing when making their will. Where a will is seen as being unjust or unfair, it is not necessarily an indication that the person who made it was lacking testamentary capacity. 

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Some of the situations where an individual making a will might have lacked the require level of testamentary capacity include where there is evidence of dementia, mental disorders that impact the ability to comprehend certain actions, experiencing intervals of lucidity, manifestations of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and / or suffering with an insane delusion. 

Just because an individual has an illness or is old does not automatically mean that they have a lack of testamentary capacity; as long as they are still able to understand their own actions then they are fine. The main point here is the integrity of their mind and not the integrity of the body when deciding whether or not an individual lacked testamentary capacity. Additionally, the person making the challenge against the will must be able to prove that the mental disorder was there when the will was being made. 

After the individual has died, a physician is able to produce crucial evidence that either supports or disproves the argument regarding testamentary capacity.

Determining mental competency in the courts

The courts evaluate a number of different elements in order to accurately determine mental capacity. A person is considered to be mentally competent to be able to make a will if they can understand that the document they are making is in fact a will and can understand all of the requirements.