Testamentary capacity important when litigating a contested will

Estate planning is an important process that many California residents take part in to prepare for the ends of their lives. When a person dies, the assets, property, and liabilities that they held must be evaluated and distributed according to any testamentary wishes that they left behind. This is often done in a legal process called probate where the decedent’s will is reviewed and used as a guide for completing the distribution of their estate.

Though probate is often straightforward for many, in some cases probate matters are complicated by necessary will challenges. These challenges may be put forth by interested parties who have either been left out of the decedents’ wills or who believe that the wills have been changed for improper reasons. This post will discuss testamentary capacity as a basis for challenging a will, but as with all of the posts on this blog, no part of this post should be read as specific legal advice.

What is testamentary capacity?

Testamentary capacity refers to the ability of an individual to understand their will. In order for a person to have testamentary capacity, they must understand what the provisions of their will mean and what will happen to their property upon their death based on those provisions. If a person does not possess testamentary capacity when they draft and execute their will, their will may not be valid.

A lack of testamentary capacity may result in manipulation

One concern that may arise when a person is found to have lacked testamentary capacity during the creation of their will is that they may have been pressured to draft their will in such a way as to benefit unscrupulous individuals. Duress, coercion, and even forgery are problems that individuals may face when creating their wills. If they lacked the understanding of how their wills would function and what they would accomplish upon their death, the presence or evidence of duress, coercion, or forgery may lead to an invalidation of the wills.

Challenging a will

It is a misconception that individuals who choose to litigate wills in probate are only after the protection of their own self interests. Many will contests arise because individuals see that decedents were taken advantage of or unduly influenced into drafting wills that did not truly represent their end of life wishes. Though a will challenge can be a difficult process, it can help an individual fight for a decedent’s interests and the protection of their assets through the rightful distribution of their estate.

Challenging a will involves litigation and for this reason any person who wants to challenge a will in probate should find an attorney who is prepared to litigate a difficult case. Not all attorneys handle litigation, and before committing to representation an individual should ensure that the law office they choose is prepared to fight for their rights and claims.