In the previous posts in this series on will contests in New York, we discussed who may contest a last will and testament and on what grounds a will may be contested. In this Part 4, we will go into further detail on the third ground on which a last will and testament may be contested – incapacitation aka lack of testamentary capacity. Incapacitation is the claim that the Testator did not have the testamentary capacity required to execute a last will and testament. Remember, the information below focuses on will contests in New York and more specifically on will contests in New York City.
Lack of Testamentary Capacity:
In order to be deemed to have the capacity necessary to execute a will, a testator must generally understand:
What property he owns;
Who are the natural objects of his bounty; and
That he is executing a will and its implications.
The standard for testamentary capacity is a relatively low one when compared with the standard for capacity to execute a contract. The Testator need only have testamentary capacity at the time the will was executed. So, a testator who suffered from senility could be deemed to have had testamentary capacity if, at the time the will was executed, he was experiencing a lucid interval.
Only experts and the witnesses to the will can offer their opinion as to whether the decedent had testamentary capacity at the time the will was executed. Other parties can testify about the decedent’s actions but cannot offer their opinion as to whether the testator possessed the capacity required to execute a will.