Defining Testamentary Capacity in California

One of the most common reasons for a will contest are claims about testamentary capacity. These are usually brought by heirs who allege that the person who created the will did not have testamentary capacity to create that document. If this challenge is successful in court, the will is deemed invalid.

Capacity is a general term and one that is not subject to a precise definition. Multiple factors might be explored to determine whether or not a person is of sound mind at the time they executed their will. This can include information from the doctor regarding the testator’s mental state at that point in time, whether or not the testator understands the nature and extent of the property they own and whether or not the testator understands the ordinary affairs of life.

It falls to the person who is alleging that the creator did not have testamentary capacity to illustrate this in court. This makes it all the more important to ensure that when crafting your own estate planning documents, you have the support of an experienced estate planning attorney. California law on testamentary capacity starts with a presumption that the party in question does have appropriate mental capacity; a diagnosis of a mental condition in and of itself is only a starting point for litigation. It is a big burden for someone who has raised the contest to support their claim.

When there are questions raised about someone’s mental capacity to have understood a recently-signed power of attorney document, for example, this can slow down the management of tasks handled by that power of attorney agent. This can also generate disputes in court and even court evaluation of the document in question.

An estate planning lawyer in California can help you consider the many different elements that go into crafting your estate plan and special steps that you can take to help minimize the chances that your loved ones will file a will contest after you pass away.

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