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Worried about a will contest? Learn about testamentary capacity

On Behalf of | Aug 30, 2023 | Estate Planning |

A final will is among the most important documents you may ever create. In it, you can let everyone you love know what you intend to happen to your estate after you die.

Unfortunately, well-meaning family members who believe you may have lacked the sound mind to create a valid will may question your decisions. If you anticipate a relative raising a challenge over your testamentary capacity, you may be able to prevent it with a few proactive measures.

What is testamentary capacity?

It means you have the mental ability to make decisions about your estate and include them in your will. Most states, including New Jersey, automatically assume testators are mentally competent.

The only time courts question testamentary capacity is when someone claims a testator was incompetent. When that happens, the following must be shown to prove the will is valid.

The testator:

  • Comprehended they were signing a will and understood its legal implications
  • Understood the nature and extent of the assets included in the will
  • Knew the extent of their heirs and beneficiaries and why they distributed their assets in a specific way

If the will is questioned, the court will also want to rule out the possibility that you have an advanced stage of dementia or a mental disorder that could have impeded your judgment.

How can you prove testamentary capacity?

You may be wondering how you can prove your mental ability to make sound decisions after your death. The tips below may help.

  • Get regular medical evaluations from someone who understands mental capacity
  • Explain your asset distribution decisions in writing by including a letter of intent
  • Tell your estate planning representative about your concerns and ask for guidance in preventing a will contest

When you are well informed about making an “airtight” will and other estate documents, you can rest easy knowing your final wishes will be followed.