For a will to be valid in New York State, the person who made it must meet a standard known as testamentary capacity. The state considers testamentary capacity to be the law’s lowest acceptable level of cognitive ability. If you believe that the decedent lacked testamentary capacity when they executed the will, and you are affected by the outcome, you have a right to contest it. However, it is crucial to recognize that the burden of proof lies with the contesting party. Here is what you need to know about proving the lack of testamentary capacity when challenging a will.
Defining Lack of Testamentary Capacity
Certain conditions must be met for a will to be considered valid, including that the person executing it had testamentary capacity. To have testamentary capacity in New York, the testator must have:
- Understood that they were making a will
- Understood the scope of the will’s dispositive provisions
- Known the nature and extent of their assets
- Known the natural objects of their bounty and their relations – that is, their closest surviving family members, who would be affected by their will
Lack of testamentary capacity means the testator failed to meet one or more of these standards at the time the will was executed due to unsoundness of mind and memory. For example, they may not have comprehended they were making a binding will, did not grasp assets they owned, or could not recognize close relatives. In such situations, the will would be deemed invalid.
Gathering Evidence of Incapacity
There are several types of evidence that can demonstrate a lack of testamentary capacity. These include:
- Medical records contemporaneous with will execution showing mental incapacity from illness or injury
- Witness accounts of the testator’s confusion, severe memory loss, or inability to recognize relatives around the time the will was signed
- Observations by doctors or family members that the testator exhibited irrational behavior or was prone to delusions or susceptible to undue influence leading up to the execution of the will
An experienced New York estate litigation lawyer can help you identify and collect the required evidence.
Presenting Evidence and Meeting Burden of Proof
To successfully contest a will, the challenging party must prove the testator’s incapacity at will execution by a preponderance of the evidence – in other words, that the evidence assembled shows that it is more likely than not that the testator was not of sound mind when their will was executed. An attorney can help you present your case through medical records, witness accounts, expert testimony, and other relevant evidence. The narrative should be coherent and consistent regarding the testator’s lack of capacity.
Medical experts are often necessary to interpret medical evidence, since medical records can often be inconclusive on their own. Furthermore, it is worth remembering that contemporaneous accounts carry more weight than after-the-fact testimony.
Courts apply a high bar for finding incapacity, which is why a skilled attorney who knows how to locate, collect, and interpret evidence to that fact is such a critical ally.
Contact Jeffrey M. Rosenblum, P.C.
All probate matters can create a great deal of anxiety and open up divisions between family members. Contesting a will on the grounds of a lack of testamentary capacity can be a particularly challenging situation to manage. It requires rigor in gathering and presenting evidence, as courts have a high bar for finding a lack of capacity.
Working with an experienced New York estate litigation attorney can optimize your chances of a favorable outcome. The seasoned legal team at Jeffrey M. Rosenblum, P.C., recognizes the sensitivity of these matters. We will provide you with the counsel and advocacy you need throughout the process, and we will support you as you take the next steps should your challenge prove successful. Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you.