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Testamentary capacity and estate planning

On Behalf of | Dec 6, 2023 | Estate Planning, Uncategorized

Every state, including Indiana, has its own guidelines and laws regarding the signing of legal documents, such as a last will and testament. While laws may vary by state, there is at least one regulation that exists across the board. For a will to be legally enforceable, the person who signs it or executes it must demonstrate testamentary capacity as part of the estate planning process.

Testamentary capacity is a legal term that refers to a person’s mental health. It basically means that the individual in question is of sound mind and able to make decisions and understand the implications or potential consequences of those decisions. If there is uncertainty as to whether a testator possessed testamentary capacity, someone may step forward to challenge the validity of his or her will.

Who determines testamentary capacity for estate planning?

If someone contests a will due to lack of testamentary capacity, they may bring the issue before a judge to determine whether the will is valid. The court may call upon various parties to assist in determining whether the decedent showed testamentary capacity when he or she signed the will. Such parties may include licensed physicians or psychologists, close friends and family members and others.

In some cases, a testator’s capability may face challenges while he or she is still alive, such as an adult child omitted from an inheritance claiming that the testator is not of sound mind and needs a conservator. Such issues can be quite complex. For example, a person may have already received a dementia diagnosis yet still demonstrate coherent thinking and ability to sign a will at a specific point in time.

A testator must demonstrate understanding of these issues

Understanding the purpose of a last will and testament is one of the requirements that a person must demonstrate to execute a will as part of the estate planning process in Indiana. If you were executing a will, you would need to show that you understand the value of your estate — assets you own, liabilities you owe, etc., as well as an understanding of what will occur if you list someone as a beneficiary.

To avoid family discord, it is a good idea to officially confirm testamentary capacity at the time of signing a will. Having this on record would constitute evidence should anyone later come forward to challenge the will. This is especially helpful if a testator is planning to omit a particular individual, such as one adult child, while naming several others as beneficiaries.