The death of a loved one is typically followed by a period of grief and heightened emotions. It is during this time that the legal process of probating the decedent’s estate gets underway. One function of probate is to authenticate the Last Will and Testament filed with the court if a Will was located. As such, any challenges to the Will’s validity are raised and litigated during this time frame. For anyone contemplating a Will challenge, the Long Island attorneys at Eghrari Wealth Training Firm discuss proving lack of testamentary capacity in a New York Will contest.
Probate is the legal process that is usually required to settle the estate of someone who recently passed away. At the end of the probate process, the decedent’s remaining assets are transferred to the beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate. First, however, the court must authenticate the decedent’s Last Will and Testament if one was submitted to the court. If a Will is submitted and authenticated, the terms of the Will are used to determine how the decedent’s assets are distributed at the end of the probate process.
What Does It Mean to Contest a Will?
When a Will is submitted to Surrogate Court (the court that typically handles probate), any “interested” person may contest the validity of the Will. An “interested” person may be a beneficiary under the Will submitted for probate, a beneficiary under a previous Will, a legal heir to the estate, or even a creditor of the estate. You cannot challenge a Will simply because you are not happy with the terms of the Will. Instead, you must have legal grounds for which the Will could be declared invalid. In New York, that means you must allege (and prove) that the Will was not properly executed, was the product of undue influence, or that the Testator (person who signed the Will) lacked the requisite testamentary capacity needed to execute a Will. If you successfully prove that the Testator lacked testamentary capacity (or another available ground) the court will declare the Will invalid and look for another valid Will to use when probating the estate. If a valid Will is not located, the estate is probated using the New York intestate succession laws.
What Does Lack of Testamentary Capacity Mean in New York?
New York law requires a Testator to be at least 18 years old and “of sound mind and memory” (testamentary capacity) to execute a Last Will and Testament. One way to successfully contest a Will is to prove that the Testator lacked the testamentary capacity necessary to execute the Will at the time the Will was signed. The law starts with the presumption that a Testator did have the necessary testamentary capacity, meaning that the person contesting the Will has the burden of proving that the Testator lacked capacity. Furthermore, it is important to understand that the issue of testamentary capacity applies at the time the Will was executed. This distinction is particularly important when a Testator was suffering from dementia because during the earlier stages a dementia sufferer may have extremely lucid periods followed by periods where cognitive function is clearly impaired.
New York courts have interpreted the “sound mind and memory” requirement to mean that a Testator must understand:
- The natural objects of their bounty and their relations with them.
- The nature and extent of his/her property.
- The nature and consequences of executing a Will.
In simple terms, a Testator must understand the property they own, who would inherit that property without a Will, and what effect the Will they are creating has on their property and their legal heirs. To successfully contest a Will in New York based on lack of testamentary capacity, you must prove that the Testator did not understand one or more of these things at the time the Will was executed.
Are You Contemplating a New York Will Contest?
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you are contemplating a New York Will contest based on lack of testamentary capacity, contact the Long Island probate attorneys at Eghrari Wealth Training Firm by calling us at 631-265-0599 to schedule your appointment.