What is Mental Capacity to Make or Change a Will?
The Legal Standard for Competence to Sign a Will
If you have aging parents or loved ones who need to make or change their estate plan, it is important to understand the legal definition of "mental capacity" in this context.
It is actually quite limited. A person need only understand the extent of their property, the people who are their natural heirs, and the consequences of signing a will. This means even people who are unable to manage their own affairs due to dementia could be legally competent to update their estate plan for quite a while, so long as they know the nature of what they own, who their family members are, and that the estate planning documents will dictate who gets those assets.
It is also important to remember that the person only needs mental capacity at the moment he or she signs the will. Someone with a mental disorder or dementia may have lucid moments even if there are times they do not meet the test. At those times, they may have the legally required state of mind.
If there is any doubt, this should be discussed with their estate planning attorney. The attorney may ask to meet separately with your parent(s) in order to make their own assessment of competence to sign the documents. They may also recommend recording the conversation in case it is ever needed as evidence.
Learn more here about mental capacity to make a will in Massachusetts.
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