Fundamental to the validity of any last will and testament is that the testator (person whose will it is, and who is signing the documents) had capacity at the time of execution.
By statute, a testator in Pennsylvania must be “of sound mind” to make a will. (20 Pa. C.S.A. § 2501.) Pennsylvania courts have also explained in more detail what it means to have the required mental capacity. As one court summarized:
“A testator has testamentary capacity if at the time of execution of the will he had an intelligent knowledge regarding the natural objects of his bounty, of the property he possesses, and of what he desires to do with his estate, even though his memory has been impaired by age or disease. The following factors must be considered to determine if a testator had testamentary capacity:
- Knowledge regarding the natural objects of his bounty. This frequently will be knowledge of relatives where some or all are to be beneficiaries. Understanding who the persons are who are to share in the estate will normally satisfy this consideration.
- Knowledge of property and of what the estate consists. However, testator need not know every asset. Where testator intends to give all of his property to one person, his knowledge of his property is of little bearing.
- Understanding what testator desires to do with the property in the estate.
Testamentary capacity need not rise to the same level required to conduct business affairs. Testator may have capacity although old, weak and sick. Physical weakness will not create incapacity as long as sufficient mental capacity exists. A faulty memory alone is not sufficient proof of incapacity.
It is recognized that a testator is entitled to his own prejudices. Eccentricity is not equivalent to incapacity. Lucid periods are recognized by the courts.”
(In re: Estate of Ballas, 2010 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 552, *26-28 (citations omitted).)
Proof of lack of capacity can depend on medical records, testimony of witnesses, and other evidence.
If a testator lacked capacity at the time of signing, the will is invalid. But keep in mind that having capacity does the guarantee that the will is not invalid for some other reasons, such as undue influence.
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