Capacity usually refers to a natural person’s legal ability to make binding agreements relating to their rights, duties, and obligations, such as entering into contracts, getting married, or executing wills. For example, minors lack the capacity to enter into binding contracts and to execute wills, and certain mental conditions may render a person incapable of testamentary capacity. Agreements made by persons who lacked capacity can be either void (invalid from the beginning) or voidable (capable of being invalidated). In the area of probate, trusts, and estates, testamentary capacity is an important concept to keep in mind when trying to affirm the validity of a will or to attack its legality.
According to Florida law, to have testamentary capacity, the testator must be of “sound mind.” A sound mind means the ability of the testator to mentally understand in a general way the nature and extent of the property disposed of, and the testator’s relation to those who would naturally claim a substantial benefit from the will, as well as a general understanding of practical effect of the will as executed.
While it may be simple to attack the validity of a will on grounds of forgery or fraud, proving legal incapacity by an unsound mind is a harder feat. First, the incapacity must be shown to have existed on the date on which the subject document was executed. Second, it must be shown that the decedent was incapable of experiencing a lucid interval in which she could have had capacity to execute the document. As the Florida Supreme Court famously said, “[e]ven a lunatic may make a will during a lucid interval.”
Overcoming this hard obstacle of proving incapacity is usually done through the opinion of expert witnesses in court. A duly qualified and competent expert—usually a neurologist, psychiatrist, or other professional the court may deem fit to testify—must render their professional opinion on the capacity of the testator at the time of the execution of the will.
If you’re in doubt about your rights or need representation relating to a will or other gift, contact a Fort Lauderdale probate litigation lawyer at (954) 440-0901 to assist you with your dispute. The Fort Lauderdale probate litigation lawyers at The Carlin Law Firm, PLLC regularly represent beneficiaries and others entitled to property with prosecuting and defending claims for lack of capacity.