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Challenging A Will Based On Testamentary Capacity


One common way in which dissatisfied family members may challenge a testator’s will is to argue that the will was written when the testator lacked testamentary capacity. If the challenge is successful, the terms of a will can be invalidated, and an earlier will may become the last will of the testator. If no other will exists, the court may divide the property as though the testator passed away with no will.

Testamentary capacity generally refers to the mental and legal capacity of a person to make a will. We will be discussing challenges based on a testator’s mental capacity to make a will. These challenges can vary and may include allegations that the testator was suffering from an illness that affected his mental capacities, or allegations that the testator was under undue influence at the time he executed the will.

In order to make a will, the testator has to be aware of the nature and extent of his estate, and also be aware of the members of his family that would be his beneficiaries. However, this does not mean that if the testator does not leave some property to a family member he lacked testamentary capacity. The person challenging the testator’s capacity bears the burden of proving that the testator lacked testamentary capacity. This can be accomplished by providing testimony and documentary proof of a medical diagnosis that the testator did indeed suffer from an illness that affected his mind.

When a court looks at the evidence to make a decision on whether or not a testator had testamentary capacity, the period of time considered is the time at which the will was made. If the person suffered from a condition that affected his mind, it may still be possible that he had a moment when he was well enough to execute the will.

A challenge to testamentary capacity based on undue influence usually centers on the influence a person exerted on the testator that took away the testator’s capacity to make a valid will. This allegation may be made when a person comes into the testator’s life and within a short time, the testator changes his will to leave a majority of his estate to the person, to the detriment of his family members.

Once again, the family members or other beneficiaries who challenge the new terms of the will would have to prove that the changes made to the will were because of the new person’s improper influence. The challengers have to show that the person exerted such influence or pressure that the testator lost his free will and was unable to refuse or resist the pressure to change his will.

Contact an Estate Attorney Before You Change Your Will

If you, as a testator, want to make significant changes to your will but are afraid that it will trigger challenges after you pass away, you need to consult a knowledgeable estate planning attorney at Meyer & Spencer, P.C., with offices in Pleasantville and Mahopac, New York, and serving Westchester and Putnam Counties. There are steps you can take to ensure that, after you pass away, your wishes are followed as written in your will.



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