When you were younger, you probably recall your parents doing things you did not understand or agree with. In fact, some of the decisions your parents made, from their clothes to their musical tastes, may have seemed confusing and foolish to you.
Now that you are an adult, you may better appreciate some of your parents’ choices and the thinking that led to some of their decisions. Unfortunately, you may once again be wondering about your parents’ capacity for reasonable decision-making if you are questioning their estate planning choices.
Testamentary capacity and undue influence
The law assumes a person who writes a will understands what he or she is doing and the consequences of the decisions. Even when will makers choose poorly, it does not necessarily mean they do not realize what is happening. This ability to make rational choices and to have a basic understanding of what one is doing is known as “testamentary capacity.” Even though it is the lowest standard of competency, it is all the law requires of someone who is making a will.
Testamentary capacity means the following about your parents regarding their estate plan:
- They understood that they were signing their wills.
- They had a general idea of the contents and value of their estate.
- They understood who would have a natural claim to the estate.
These factors matter most if your parent’s will contains controversial choices, such as the disinheritance of you or a sibling, or unreasonable or confusing changes to a previously valid will. You may suspect that someone used threats or undue pressure to persuade your loved one to change the will. Even if your loved had sufficient mental capacity to create a valid will, he or she may have had no choice but to give in to the pressure from the other person.
Claiming your inheritance
A valid will in Pennsylvania does not require witnesses, but any witnesses can be valuable if they can attest to the influence someone may have used against your parent. You may also seek the assistance of medical professionals, caregivers and others who can testify to your loved one’s mental state.
Successfully contesting a will during probate is difficult and may result in hard feelings among other heirs and family members, so it is not something to enter into lightly. However, if a significant fortune is on the line, it may be worth it to you to fight for what you believe your loved one would have wanted you to receive.