Testamentary capacity in Ohio is the capacity required to be able to make a valid will under Ohio law. A will under Ohio law is only valid if the testator had testamentary capacity to make the will.
What Is Testamentary Capacity Under Ohio Law?
Testamentary capacity exists under Ohio law when the testator can:
- Understand the nature of the business in which he is engaged;
- Comprehend generally the nature and extent of the property which constitutes his estate;
- Hold in his mind the names and identity of those who have natural claims on his bounty; and,
- Appreciate his relation to the members of his family.
The test for testamentary capacity is set forth in the Ohio Supreme Court case of Niemes v. Niemes, 97 Ohio St. (n.s.) 145 (1917).
The Time Frame For Testamentary Capacity In Ohio
Just because a testator may have lacked testamentary capacity when they died does not mean that they did not have capacity to make their will.
The mental condition of the testator at the time that the will was made is what matters for determining the existence of testamentary capacity. As stated in Hutchison v. Kaforey, a 2016 Ohio case:
Evidence of the testator’s condition “’within a reasonable time before and after the making of the will is admissible as throwing light on his mental condition at the time of the execution of the will in question.’” What constitutes a “reasonable time” depends on the circumstances of the particular case.
Therefore, it is quite common for an Ohio probate attorney involved in a will contest to look for evidence of a testator’s mental condition in the time period surrounding the execution of the challenged will.
Can A Person With Dementia Have Testamentary Capacity Under Ohio Law?
Yes, under Ohio law a testator who suffers from dementia or some other disease of the mind can still have the capacity to make a valid will.
As long as the testator can meet the four part test under Ohio law for testamentary capacity, the will can still be valid even in the presence of dementia or some other mental disease.
Can A Person Under A Guardianship Have Testamentary Capacity In Ohio?
A person under a guardianship is presumed to lack the testamentary capacity to make a will. However, this presumption is rebuttable. As stated in Hutchison v. Kaforey:
The degree of proof necessary to rebut this presumption is not high. See id. at 186-187. Instead, the degrees of proof necessary to both rebut the presumption of incompetency and establish capacity are coterminous, and, as discussed, can be met by showing that the decedent had sufficient mind and memory to: (1) understand the nature of the business in which he is engaged; (2) comprehend generally the nature and extent of his property; (3) hold in his mind the names and identity of those who had natural claims upon his bounty; and (4) be able to appreciate his relation to the members of his family.
Therefore, if evidence is presented that shows that the testator met the four part test for testamentary capacity, the will is not invalid on the grounds that the Ohio testator lacked testamentary capacity.
Who Has The Burden Of Proving Testamentary Capacity In An Ohio Will Contest?
The burden of proof in determining testamentary capacity is on the party contesting the will.