How can you prove testamentary incapacity? 

On Behalf of | Jun 5, 2024 | Probate And Estate Administration |

A valid will ensures that a person’s plans and wishes for their estate follow through when they pass away. For a will to hold weight, the testator, the will’s creator, must possess testamentary capacity. This means they must be of sound mind and judgment when creating the will. However, what happens if a person isn’t of sound mind? Would you be able to challenge the will of a person who lacks testamentary capacity? 

Understanding testamentary capacity 

Testamentary capacity is about fully understanding the act of creating a will. Common law considers someone to have valid testamentary capacity if they have “intelligent knowledge” of these things at the time of the will’s signing: 

  • The natural objects of your bounty: This refers to those you might typically name in a will, such as children, spouses or parents 
  • The nature and extent of your property: You should have a general idea of the assets you own and their value 
  • Your wishes for distributing your estate: You need to understand how your will directs the distribution of your property after your death 

The testator must also be able to connect all three foundations to form a coherent plan for the estate. The court will weigh the evidence against these if someone claims testamentary incapacity and for a will. 

How do you prove testamentary incapacity? 

The burden of proof falls on the person contesting the will. Evidence for contesting the will may include: 

  • Medical records: Documentation of dementia, Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairments can be crucial. 
  • Witness testimony: Friends, family, or caregivers can describe the testator’s mental state while signing the will. This could include confusion, memory lapses or an inability to manage finances. 
  • Expert testimony: A medical professional can analyze the testator’s medical history and offer an opinion on their mental capacity during the signing. 

Those who wish to contest a will in Pennsylvania have a short window, typically one year from the date of probate. There may also be self-proving wills that can be harder to challenge as they include sworn statements from witnesses verifying the testator’s mental capacity.

Challenging a will is a complex legal matter. You would need to file a petition with the Orphans’ Court; the court in Pennsylvania that handles probate matters. A legal counsel with a background in estate litigation can guide you through the process. They may help gather evidence, represent you in court and help you fight for the proper compensation you deserve.