Testamentary capacity constitutes one of the basic requirements for the validity of a will. Often, heirs or beneficiaries unhappy with a will’s provisions consider challenging the will by alleging the testator lacked proper capacity. Illinois law and case history offers some guidelines for the definition and proof of incapacity that could invalidate a will.
The law starts out by assuming that a formally correct will was drawn up by a person with the required capacity. Challengers must overcome this presumption and show a lack of capacity when making the will.
Other types of incapacity are not enough
Testamentary capacity forms its own category, distinct from other types of mental capacity. Thus, simply proving the testator had a diagnosis of a condition potentially affecting cognition often does not suffice to prove incapacity. Even general indicators of diminished capacity such as a finding the testator was not competent to enter into a contract or the appointment of a conservator, does not show a lack of competence when it comes to making a will.
Knowledge of property
Generally, Illinois courts ask whether the testator possessed the capability to understand the type of property and its extent. This does not necessarily mean a testator must be aware of every penny in every bank account. Rather, he or she should have a generally accurate awareness of existing accounts, valuables, real estate and so forth.
Awareness of relationships
Next, courts want to know if the testator was able to understand the natural objects of his bounty. In plain language, this means understanding and remembering one’s relationships with family members. For example, someone who disinherits a son because mental incapacity caused her to forget his existence differs from someone who knows who her son is and just wants to disinherit him.
Ability to plan property disposition
Finally, the testator must have the capacity to form intentions concerning the property’s disposition and state them accordingly.
Proving the testator lacked capacity in any of the above three areas can involve thoroughly examining a wide range of proof, including documentation and witness testimony. An experienced lawyer can help you further understand this complex legal area and your own options going forward.