The Importance of Legal Capacity in Family Law | Contracts, Wills & Estates

Estate planning is a vital aspect of securing your assets and ensuring your loved ones are cared for after you're gone. However, it's crucial to ensure that the person making the decisions has the necessary legal capacity to do so. In this blog, we will delve into the concept of legal capacity and why it's critical in estate planning. We'll also discuss testamentary capacity, a specific form of legal capacity required when creating a will, and provide tips for safeguarding the validity of your will.

What is Legal Capacity?

Legal capacity is the ability to understand the legal consequences of your decisions. This understanding is vital, especially when executing estate planning documents, as these documents can grant significant powers to others. Without it, your will may be susceptible to challenges in court.

Why is it Important to Assess Legal Capacity in Estate Planning?

Assessing legal capacity in estate planning is essential for several reasons:

1. Ensuring Understanding: First and foremost, assessing legal capacity ensures that the person making decisions comprehends the implications of their choices. This safeguards them from being coerced into decisions they do not fully understand.

2. Protecting Assets: Legal capacity assessments help protect a person's assets from being misused or distributed against their wishes. This is crucial for preserving the value of the estate.

3. Avoiding Disputes: By confirming legal capacity, you can mitigate potential disputes among family members and friends. Clear and informed decisions reduce the likelihood of disagreements down the road.

How is Legal Capacity Assessed?

The assessment of legal capacity is a nuanced process that depends on the individual's unique circumstances. However, some common factors that may be considered include:

1. Age: A person's age can influence their capacity to understand complex legal matters. Assessors may need to consider whether age-related cognitive decline impacts the individual's comprehension.

2. Mental Health: Mental health plays a significant role in assessing legal capacity. Conditions such as dementia, schizophrenia, or severe depression can affect an individual's ability to make informed decisions.

3. Understanding Complex Information: The ability to comprehend intricate legal concepts and their implications is a key aspect of  assessment. If an individual struggles with this, it could indicate a lack of legal capacity.

Testamentary Capacity: What You Need to Know

Testamentary capacity is a specific form of legal capacity required when creating a will. To ensure the validity of a will, one must be able to understand and appreciate the nature of making a will, the extent of their property, and the claims of potential beneficiaries. Let's look at a case example to emphasise its importance.

In the case of Greer v Greer, the court invalidated Mr. Greer's will because he lacked testamentary capacity. The court determined this based on Mr. Greer's cognitive impairment and the absence of a proper assessment at the time of making the will. This case underscores the significance of assessing testamentary capacity rigorously.

Factors Considered in Determining Testamentary Capacity

When evaluating whether someone has testamentary capacity, several factors come into play, these include:

1. Understanding the Nature of a Will: The person must grasp the purpose and legal effects of creating a will.

2. Knowing the Extent of Their Property: Understanding the value and nature of their assets is vital.

3. Rational Judgement: The individual must be capable of forming logical and rational judgments concerning their assets and beneficiaries.

4. Freedom from Undue Influence: Testamentary capacity requires that the person making the will is not under the influence or coercion of others.

Tips for Ensuring a Valid Will

If you have concerns about your own testamentary capacity or that of someone you know, it's imperative to consult a lawyer. We can assess testamentary capacity and assist in creating a will that is both valid and enforceable. To ensure the validity of your will and prevent disputes, consider the following tips:

1. Consult a Lawyer: Have your will drafted by a lawyer who can explain the legal requirements for a valid will and tailor it to your specific needs.

2. Proper Signing and Witnessing: Ensure your will is signed and witnessed in accordance with the laws of your state or territory. This step is crucial for its validity.

3. Regular Review: Life circumstances change over time. Review your will regularly and update it as needed to align with your current wishes.

Challenging a Will? Seek Legal Advice

If you find yourself in a situation where you are considering contesting a will, it's essential to seek legal advice. An experienced lawyer can assess the merits of your case and guide you on the best course of action.

For tips on how you can discuss wills and estate planning with your family or loved ones, read our blog here.

Pullos Lawyers Can Answer Your Questions About Legal Capacity

Legal capacity and, more specifically, testamentary capacity are vital components of estate planning and creating a valid will. Assessing and ensuring legal capacity not only safeguards your assets and wishes but also minimises the potential for disputes and legal challenges. With the guidance of a qualified lawyer and adherence to best practices, you can secure the future of your estate and provide for your loved ones as intended. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact the team at Pullos Lawyers, we can help you navigate wills and estates or provide other legal counsel pertaining to divorce, financial agreements and property settlement.