Monday, August 2, 2010

The Importance of Testamentary Capacity

Under Nevada law, N.R.S. 133.020, “every person of sound mind, over the age of 18 years, may, by last will, dispose of all his or her estate.” The creation or amendment of a Will or other testamentary document involves mental and emotional decisions that oftentimes affect the people nearest to the testator, including family members and friends. To prevent the unfortunate consequences of testamentary decisions based on mentally-impaired reasoning, the law requires that a testator have a “sound mind” or sufficient “testamentary capacity” when making such important choices. A testator, at the time of executing a Will or testamentary document, must understand the nature and extent of his property, understand who the natural objects of his bounty are, and comprehend the consequences of his actions and the disposition of his property according to a mentally formed plan. If a testator’s mental capacity is disproved in court after the time of execution of a testamentary document, the court may invalidate the document entirely or just certain provisions in the case of amendments.

When a testator makes a decision regarding his Will, such as to disinherit a family member, oftentimes the disinherited person will try to prove in court the testator lacked testamentary capacity. In fact, one of the most common legal challenges to the validity of a testamentary document, such as a Will, is an attempt to prove the testator did not have a sound mind when he made testamentary decisions. Accordingly, a testator who wishes to create or amend a Will or other testamentary document should always consult a knowledgeable estate planning attorney, and in appropriate situations may consider undergoing a psychological evaluation contemporaneously with the execution of the testamentary document(s). By undergoing such an evaluation at the time of execution, a testator establishes his mental capacity before it comes under attack. While this precautionary step may seem unnecessary and discomforting, the money and time a testator or his inheritors may save in future legal contests may make it worthwhile. Also, a testator’s knowledge and peace of mind that nobody will be able to displace his wishes regarding the future of his estate is extremely important.

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