A testator must have testamentary capacity in order to make a valid will under Pennsylvania law. Testamentary capacity is what Pennsylvania statute § 2501 means when it requires a testator to be of “sound mind” to make a will. 20 Pa. C.S.A. § 2501.
To have testamentary capacity under Pennsylvania law, the testator must have an intelligent knowledge, even though his memory may be impaired by age or disease, regarding:
- The natural objects of his or her bounty;
- The general composition of his estate; and,
- What he or she desires to do with his or her estate.
The standard has been set forth in many Pennsylvania cases, including Brantlinger Will, Hunter Will, and Sommerville Will.
Knowledge Regarding the Natural Objects Of His Bounty
The testamentary capacity requirement that a testator have knowledge regarding the natural objects of his or her bounty simply means that the testator must know his relatives that would inherit the estate if there was no will.
This does not require that the testator know the intestate hierarchy under Pennsylvania law to have testamentary capacity. It simply means that the testator must know his closest relatives, as those are the ones that would inherit as heirs under intestacy.
Knowledge Regarding the General Composition Of His Estate
The testamentary capacity requirement that the testator know the general composition of his estate means that the testator must understand, in a general way, the property that he owns. The testator does not need to know every asset that is in the testator’s possession.
Knowledge Of What He Desires To Do With His Estate
Pennsylvania law also requires that a testator know what he desires to do with his estate in order to have testamentary capacity to make a will. This factor goes to the very essence of making a will, because it requires the testator to know what he or she wants to do by signing the will.
Testamentary Capacity Is the Lowest Capacity Standard Under Pennsylvania Law
The testamentary capacity standard under Pennsylvania law, like many states, is quite low. The standard of capacity required to make a valid will is lower than the capacity required to enter into a contract or to conduct business. A testator, even though old, sick, and forgetful, will still have the legal testamentary capacity to make a will under Pennsylvania law, as long as the three requirements of testamentary capacity are met.
Weakened intellect and its effect on capacity to make a will is a different question than testamentary capacity, which we have written about here.
How Do You Prove Lack Of Testamentary Capacity Under Pennsylvania Law?
Evidence of the lack of testamentary capacity can come in many forms. Typically, those involved in a will contest use medical records, testimony of friends, family, and other witnesses, and even expert witnesses to show that a testator lacked the requisite testamentary capacity under Pennsylvania law.
Courts evaluate testamentary capacity on the date of the execution of the contested will. Evidence of such state of mind may be received for a reasonable time before and after execution as reflective of decedent’s testamentary capacity.
The Pennsylvania will contest case of Estate of Nalaschi involved litigation over the testamentary capacity of the testator. The court reviewed the evidence and determined that ample evidence existed that the testator was competent when the contested will was executed, and that the will contestants offered evidence that was more remote in time to support their capacity challenge:
The record, when viewed in the light most favorable to Witaconis, supports the trial court’s conclusion that Decedent had testamentary capacity. Although Eugene cites several questionable actions by Decedent in 2010, he provides little evidence of Decedent’s incompetence from the time reasonably close to the execution of the 2011 Will. See Appellant’s Brief at 12 -23. Moreover, Eugene fails to explain how his evidence of Decedent’s mental deficiencies demonstrates that Decedent was not “aware of the natural objects of his bounty, the composition of his estate and what he wants done with it.” See In re Bosley, 26 A.3d at 1111-12.
Furthermore, as this Court has previously stated, impressions of the Decedent on the very date he executed his will are more probative of the Decedent’s testamentary capacity than those of someone . . . who never met the decedent and formulated an opinion of Decedent’s mental state based solely on medical records. Id. at 1112.
In this case, most of the evidence that Eugene cites in support of his argument that Decedent lacked testamentary capacity to execute the 2011 Will is from 2010. Appellant’s Brief at 12-23. This evidence is not from a reasonable time before or after the execution of the 2011 Will, but in some instances over a year before Decedent executed the 2011 Will on April 25, 2011. See In re Agostini’s Estate, 457 A.2d at 867. Additionally, Eugene relies heavily on the testimony of Dr. Turchetti, even though Dr. Turchetti never actually met with Decedent, but rather only reviewed his records. See N.T., 4/8/13, at 7-8; In re Bosley, 26 A.3d at 1112.
To prove that a testator lacked the requisite testamentary capacity to make a will, the will contestant must be able to prove that the testator lacked capacity at the time the will was executed, and offer evidence refuting each of the factors required for testamentary capacity under Pennsylvania law.