Testamentary Capacity: A Growing Legal Concern

Testamentary Capacity: A Growing Legal Concern

Baby boomers have profoundly affected the way we do business and the way we live our lives. They’re the big, noisy generation that demanded to be heard. They pioneered breakthroughs in multiple industries, including art, medicine, science, education and technology. Now the boomers have gotten old, and while they’re being replaced by millennials, they’re still setting records. They’re joining the ranks of the estimated 5.5 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s disease, a demographic that is growing at an alarming rate. With no cure in sight, one in 10 people aged 65 and older has Alzheimer’s.

With the increased occurrence of some kind of dementia, it’s not surprising that the matter of testamentary capacity is being raised more frequently when it comes to signing legal documents.

What is testamentary capacity and why is this important?

Testamentary capacity is the legal term defining a person’s legal and mental ability to make or alter a valid Will. Wills are often executed by older adults who may be losing their mental capacity; determining testamentary capacity is a process that helps protect these potentially vulnerable adults from those who may be hoping to profit from the Will.

Testamentary capacity is a legal question, not a medical question

It is important to note that having dementia or Alzheimer’s disease does not necessarily mean that a person lacks capacity to execute his/her Will. There is no single definition of capacity, nor is there a general test or criteria that we can apply to establish capacity, mental capacity or competency. Rather, in every case, capacity is specific to each time and situation. Legal capacity can fluctuate. In terms of the law, there is a presumption of capacity until it is disproved.

In determining testamentary capacity, it is critical that the person signing the legal documents understands the relevant information and the consequences of the documents he/she is signing.

Capacity characteristics and criteria

The following capacity characteristics and determining criteria are used as guidance in determining capacity, but it’s important to keep in mind that determining capacity can be a very subjective exercise. It requires the testator to have the ability to understand the following:

  • The nature of the act of making a Will and its essential elements.
  • The extent of the property of which he or she is disposing.
  • The claims of those persons who expect to benefit from the terms of the Will.
  • An overall understanding of the relationship among these factors—the Will as a legal document, the property identified therein and the people who will be named as its beneficiaries.

We encourage everyone to create a Living Trust

But for those whose parents have been diagnosed with some form of dementia, the timing becomes much more critical. Our dedicated team is helpful, compassionate and affordable. Contact California Document Preparers at one of our three Bay Area offices today to schedule an appointment.