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Lack of Testamentary Capacity

Nashville Lawyers Knowledgeable in Contesting Wills and Trusts

When people are mentally or physically ill and no longer able to make sound decisions, they can be susceptible to devising estate planning instruments in a way that does not align with their true intentions. In situations such as these, intended beneficiaries may contest a will or trust on the basis that their loved one lacked testamentary capacity to execute such an instrument. The estate planning attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC, can guide Nashville residents and others through the process of proving or disproving that a document was executed improperly. We can help you try to ensure that your loved one’s estate matters are handled in accordance with his or her goals.

Challenges Based on Lack of Testamentary Capacity

Under Tennessee law, any individual over 18 years old and of sound mind can execute a will. This person is known as a testator. For a will to be valid, it must be in writing and signed by the testator as well as two witnesses. There are various reasons why someone may contest a will and seek to have it declared invalid, including alleging that it was improperly executed, that it was a product of undue influence, or that the testator lacked testamentary capacity. In contesting a will based on lack of testamentary capacity, it must be shown that the testator was not of sound mind at the time the will was executed and therefore was incompetent. This means it must be established that the testator did not know and understand what he or she was doing when preparing and executing the will.

The standards by which a court determines that a testator lacked capacity may be subjective. Some factors taken into account to determine a testator’s soundness of mind include physical health or disease, age, memory loss, or ailments of the mind, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Often, medical evidence and testimony may be critical in showing that a testator was incompetent at the time a will was executed. Regardless of the claim, those seeking to render a will invalid must have standing to do so. This means that the party pursuing the claim must have an interest in its outcome or derive some benefit from it.

In Tennessee, people challenging a will containing a forfeiture clause risk losing any rights or inheritance granted if their claim is unsuccessful. If a testator is found to have lacked proper capacity, however, a will will be declared invalid. In these situations, a previously existing instrument may govern the distribution of the estate. If there is no previous valid will, the estate is entered into probate and distributed accordingly under Tennessee law to the proper heirs.

Consult an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney in Nashville

If you need assistance with probate litigation in the Nashville area, the knowledgeable lawyers at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC, have the experience to investigate your situation and advise you on your options. We represent people throughout Davidson and Williamson Counties, including in Franklin, Hillsboro Village, Brentwood, East Meade, and Green Hills. To set up a free consultation, contact us online or call us at 615-800-7096.