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What do the concepts of “testamentary capacity” and “undue influence” mean?

| Jul 15, 2021 | Probate Litigation |

Someone’s will can provoke a number of disputes between their heirs, especially when there are allegations that the testator (the person who wrote the will) either lacked the appropriate testamentary capacity to make the will valid or was subject to undue influence that affected their decisions.

Understanding the meaning of these phrases can help you better recognize when a will can — and should — be challenged.

What is testamentary capacity?

Testators must generally be at least 18 years of age and have the mental capacity to know which property they own and who will be their natural heirs. They also must demonstrate knowledge about the purpose of the will and the implications associated with disposing of their property in their will.

Determining a testator’s testamentary capacity at the time the will is written is crucial, especially since most individuals who draft wills are older. An elderly individual may experience diminished mental capacity either due to mental illness or disease. 

What is undue influence?

An heir to an estate may claim that their loved one was subjected to undue influence if their estate goes to someone else other than immediate family members or seems to be heavily tilted to favor one heir above all others. 

Undue influence can happen because a testator is manipulated into believing that only the favored heir cares for them, or they may be coerced by threats into changing their will. Sometimes, a caregiver will recognize that a testator has lost their testamentary capacity to make sound decisions, and they’ll simply take advantage of the situation.

Do you believe a loved one’s will might be invalid?

Please continue to read the additional resources on our website about the probate process and disputes. If you plan to take action over a loved one’s will, it’s important to act fast to preserve your future options. 

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