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Understanding Testamentary Capacity in Washington State: What You Need to Know

Updated: Mar 16, 2023


Testamentary Capacity in Washington State: What You Need to Know


If you are considering executing a will in Washington State, it is important to understand the concept of "testamentary capacity" and how it applies to the validity of your will. Testamentary capacity refers to the soundness of mind required of someone who executes a will. In other words, it is the mental and cognitive ability to understand the transaction you are engaged in and the nature and extent of the property you are considering disposing of in your will.


When Does Someone Have Testamentary Capacity?


In Washington State, a person is considered to have testamentary capacity if, at the time of executing a will, they have sound mind and memory to understand the transaction they are engaged in, comprehend the nature and extent of their property, and recall the objects of their bounty. This definition comes from a court case, In Re Bottger's Estate, 129 P.2d 518, 14 Wash. 2d 676.


It is important to note that if the lack of capacity is used to contest your will, the court may consider any evidence of the testator's mental or physical condition. Additionally, they may investigate the physical condition of the will document and the testator's activity to determine if the individual had sufficient capacity at the time of execution.


Can Someone's Testamentary Capacity Change?


It is possible for someone's testamentary capacity to change over time. For example, a senior citizen with dementia may have a "fine day" and demonstrate good memory and a clear mind, leading a court to determine that they have sufficient testamentary capacity in that situation. However, the court will carefully review all the circumstances surrounding the case before making a determination. It is also possible for someone with a physical disability to execute a will, even if their speech or thought processes are impaired.


Durable Power of Attorney vs. Testamentary Capacity


It is important to note that the requirements for signing a Durable Power of Attorney differ from those for testamentary capacity. Therefore, a person may be capable of signing a Durable Power of Attorney even if they cannot sign a will.


Trusts and Testamentary Provisions


Most trusts, in their testamentary provisions, are essentially analogous to wills. Therefore, the same requirements for testamentary capacity apply when executing a trust.


Speak to an Attorney


As with any legal matter, it is always best to speak with an attorney before executing a will or trust. The factors and evidence considered for evaluating someone's testamentary capacity are highly subjective, and an attorney can help ensure that your will or trust is executed properly and in accordance with Washington State law.

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