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What is testamentary capacity?

On Behalf of | Oct 23, 2023 | Estate Planning |

A will is one of the most important legal documents that you can ever sign. Done right, a will takes the guesswork out of the equation and ensures that your assets pass down to the people and causes that you approve of when you die. Without one, the government might step in and decide what happens to your estate. 

For your will to be deemed valid and, thus, enforceable, however, it must meet certain important conditions. One of these is that you must be in the right state of mind at the time of signing the will. If there are doubts regarding your testamentary capacity, then someone might successfully contest your will. But what exactly does this mean? 

Understanding testamentary capacity

Basically, testamentary capacity is a mental threshold that you must meet to be able to make a will or update an existing one. Of course, it is not uncommon for an individual to temporarily lose their testamentary capacity. For instance, you may fall into a coma and regain your consciousness after treatment. Thus, testamentary capacity is assessed at the time of signing the will. 

To establish your testamentary capacity, you must meet the following conditions:

  • You must understand the nature and effects of the will that you are about to sign – This means appreciating that you are signing a document that will determine how your assets are distributed when you die.
  • You must understand the extent of the assets you are disposing of via your will – You should be aware of all the assets in your name as well as their values. 
  • You must be able to comprehend any claims potential beneficiaries might have over your estate – In other words, you must understand that you have a moral obligation to provide for your dependents (your spouse and children). 

All these conditions must be present to be deemed mentally sound to make or update a will. 

Generally speaking, it’s very difficult to challenge a will successfully. However, if there are questions regarding your testamentary capacity, then your will may be rendered invalid.