Millions of people are affected by dementia, and unfortunately many of them do not have all their estate planning affairs in order before the symptoms start. If you or a loved one has dementia, it may not be too late to sign a will or other documents, but certain criteria must be met to ensure that the signer is mentally competent.
In order for a will to be valid, the person signing must have “testamentary capacity,” which means he or she must understand the implications of what is being signed. Simply because you have a form of mental illness or disease does not mean that you automatically lack the required mental capacity. As long as you have periods of lucidity, you may still be competent to sign a will.
Generally, you are considered mentally competent to sign a will if the following criteria are met:
- You understand the nature and extent of your property, which means you know what you own and how much of it.
- You remember and understand who your relatives and descendants are and are able to articulate who should inherit your property.
- You understand what a will is and how it disposes of property.
- You understand how all these things relate to each other and come together to form a plan.
Family members may contest the will if they are unhappy with the distributions and believe you lacked mental capacity to sign it. If a will is found to be invalid, a prior will may be reinstated or the estate may pass through the state’s intestacy laws (as if no will existed). To prevent a will contest, our office works with clients who have mental illness or disease to help make it as clear as possible that the person signing the will is competent. Prior to beginning estate planning documents for clients with mental illnesses or disease, we require the client to obtain a note from two of their doctors which states that the client is competent to execute legal documents such as a power of attorney, will, or trust.