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To execute a valid will in New York, the person making the will, known as a testator, must meet specific legal requirements. Primarily, the testator must have testamentary capacity, which is the capacity to understand and execute a valid will. If you seek to contest a will of a loved one who recently passed, you may be able to challenge the will in court. One ground for challenging a will is showing that the decedent lacked testamentary capacity to execute the will. You should discuss your situation with New York City estate litigation attorney Jules Haas.Will Contests
To contest a will in New York, you must have standing; that is, you must fall within one of the categories of persons with a pecuniary interest in the decedent’s estate. Those who would receive less under the last will and testament than if there were no will, or heirs at law, have standing to bring a will contest. Likewise, standing accrues to beneficiaries who receive less under the will presented to the court than they would have under a prior will. If you have standing, you can file objections to stop the will from being probated.
You will need to specify the grounds for the will contest. Common grounds that are raised include lack of testamentary capacity, as well as undue influence and improper execution.Testamentary Capacity
Adults, who are persons age 18 or older, are presumed to have the capacity to make a will. However, as a person with standing, you can bring a will contest to challenge the testamentary capacity of the testator. Persons may lack testamentary capacity if they cannot understand the different aspects of the will while making it. The testator must have the mental ability needed to execute a will for it to be valid.
New York courts look at certain factors to figure out whether a particular decedent had testamentary capacity to execute a valid will: (1) the decedent understood the nature and consequences of creating the will, (2) the decedent knew the natural objects of his bounty and his relationship with them, (3) the decedent knew the extent and nature of his assets as distributed by the will.
To have testamentary capacity, testators must know that they are signing their will and understand its terms. Testators must have a basic understanding of the will, but do not need to completely understand every term in it or its tax implications.Natural Objects of His Bounty
Testamentary capacity requires testators to know what's called the natural objects of their bounty. In most cases, the natural objects of a person's bounty are their immediate family. For example, a spouse or child would be considered someone for whom it would be natural for decedents to leave their property. Distant family members would only become natural objects of bounty when the decedent isn’t survived by immediate family. In some situations, a testator’s unmarried partner may be considered a natural object of the testator's bounty.Understanding the Estate
As part of testamentary capacity, testators generally need to understand what they own. Accordingly, they should possess a basic understanding of what property they are holding, but not necessarily a detailed awareness of the value of their assets.Consult a New York City Lawyer About Your Will Contest
If you were just disinherited or received less than someone a decedent knew less well, you may be wondering whether you have grounds to contest your loved one’s last will and testament. Because a successful outcome in a will contest depends on the specific facts and circumstances, an attorney experienced in handling will contests may help protect your legal rights. If you are concerned about testamentary capacity in New York City, you should discuss your situation with seasoned lawyer Jules Haas. For more than 35 years, he’s handled estate litigation on behalf of a range of clients. His clients live in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens, as well as Kings, Richmond, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. Call us at (212) 355-2575 or complete our online form. He provides a free case review and offers reasonable fee arrangements.