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What constitutes a lack of capacity for probate purposes?

On Behalf of | Jul 3, 2024 | Estate Planning |

Most people put a lot of thought and consideration into their estate plans. They want what they leave behind for loved ones to have a positive impact. They may achieve that goal by naming specific family members as their beneficiaries.

Typically, those with estate plans communicate with their family members and other beneficiaries about their intentions. That way, there aren’t very many surprises after someone dies. Most people who expect to inherit from someone’s estate have a rough idea of what the estate plan leaves for them. However, sometimes families review a will and question whether it truly reflects the decedent’s actual intentions.

There may have been surprise last-minute revisions to the documents that people weren’t aware of prior to the person dying. Families may begin to suspect that a decline in mental acuity may have led to questionable estate planning moves. Families can sometimes contest wills in probate court by claiming that a testator lacked capacity when drafting or updating their documents. When are such claims viable in Massachusetts?

There is a high standard for incapacity claims

The Massachusetts courts have had to rule on many contested probate cases where people claim that a testator’s health challenges prevented them from having the necessary capacity to control their legacy. There have been several key rulings on such issues. Most people have testamentary capacity once they become adults, but some people with serious medical challenges may not.

Essentially, whether or not someone lacks capacity comes down to their abilities and understanding at the time they create or revise their documents. Testators need to understand what resources they have and be cognizant of their relationships. They need to understand what impact their documents could have on their beneficiaries.

Most people, even those struggling with the early stages of cognitive decline, have the necessary testamentary capacity to draft valid and enforceable estate planning documents. Those alleging otherwise are the party that must provide proof to support their claims.

Discussing what has led to concerns about someone’s testamentary capacity can help people determine if probate litigation to contest a will is an appropriate and viable option for their situation. As such, learning more about Massachusetts laws and relevant prior court rulings can benefit those concerned about the legacy of the loved one.