Testamentary Capacity: The Concept of ‘Sound Mind’ Is Not a Black-and-White Matter
March 1, 2012
At the turn of the 20th century, the average life expectancy was a mere 49 years and dementia was a rare phenomenon. Today’s average life expectancy exceeds 77 years. As life spans increase, estate planning attorneys confront the growing challenge of representing older clients who may have started to suffer capacity-related health issues such as Alzheimer’s disease. So how is mental capacity determined with regards to legal matters?
As a threshold, when a client initially meets with an attorney the attorney must determine whether or not the client has the requisite mental capacity necessary to reasonably articulate their wishes concerning their legal affairs. Testamentary capacity is a legal term that refers to one’s ability to be of sound mind in reference to altering or creating estate planning documents. Unfortunately, legal testamentary capacity or competence is not a black and white determination.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court provided the following standard definition of capacity to execute wills: …
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by: Todd C. Ratner