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Understanding Testamentary Capacity in a California Estate Planning Dispute

 Posted on March 16, 2023 in Wills

Los Angeles, CA Last Will and Testament LawyerA last will and testament and other estate planning instruments allow a person to decide in advance how their assets will be distributed to heirs. The decisions contained in a person's estate plans are deeply personal, and most people think long and hard about how they want their assets to be divided among their loved ones or other beneficiaries. Consequently, it is crucial that any will, trust, or other estate planning document represent an individual's true intentions. When a person suffers from dementia or another illness that affects cognition, this is particularly important.

In order for a will to be legally valid, the person making it must have testamentary capacity. Testamentary capacity is a legal concept that ensures that an individual's estate planning decisions are being made by someone who is mentally competent.

California Law Regarding Testamentary Capacity

In California, a testator (the person writing the will) must have a "sound mind" in order to make a valid will. In other words, the person must be able to think clearly and make decisions. Generally speaking, the testator must:

  • Understand the value of his or her property

  • Recognize who the potential heirs are

  • Have an understanding of how their assets will be distributed upon their death

  • Comprehend that they are creating a will

The determination of testamentary capacity generally rests on the court's evaluation of the testator at the time the will was created. The court often considers input from the testator's doctor or other medical professionals.

In California, if it can be established that the testator had dementia or another mental impairment but still had testamentary capacity, then their estate plans are likely to be upheld by the court.

Lack of Testamentary Capacity Can Invalidate a Will

If a person lacks testamentary capacity, this means that he or she is not mentally equipped to write a will or make important estate planning decisions. The law requires testamentary capacity to prevent elderly individuals or those with cognitive impairment from being taken advantage of. For example, an elderly woman with Alzheimer's disease may be easily persuaded into changing her will to give all her money to one person and disinheriting the rest of her family.

If a will is determined to be invalid due to a lack of testamentary capacity, then it will not be enforced by the court. This means that the estate will be distributed according to California intestate succession laws.

Contact a California Estate Planning Lawyer for Help

Whether you are writing your own will or you have concerns about the validity of a loved one’s will, dependable legal counsel is a must. California estate planning attorney David Schechet has over 35 years of experience. He can address your concerns and provide the legal guidance you need. Call 800-282-4731 for a free initial consultation.


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