woman signing estate planning document

Understanding Competency in Massachusetts Estate Planning

Because estate planning decisions and documents are weighty and often life-altering, the competence of those making these decisions and signing these documents is central to the process. In other words, the law requires that the person signing a will, trust, durable power of attorney, or other estate planning document has the mental capacity to understand what they are signing and what the consequences of taking that action will be.

The legal standards for competency in Massachusetts are not always as straightforward and unambiguous as they may seem. Questions of competency can derail plans for healthcare, asset protection, and inheritance, so it is essential to have an estate planning attorney with an in-depth knowledge of state law to guide you through. In Southeastern Massachusetts, contacting the astute estate planning attorneys at Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. is a fine choice.

Legal Standards for Competency in Massachusetts

Competency, in the context of estate planning, refers to the mental capacity required to make a will, trust, or other estate planning document. In Massachusetts, the standard for testamentary capacity, which is the ability to legally make a will and other estate planning documents, states that the testator (the person creating the will) must be of sound mind. 

This means that the testator must understand the nature and extent of their property, know which individuals have legal claims to the property as heirs, and understand what the act of executing a will means. The standards of mental fitness for other estate planning documents, such as trusts, powers of attorney, and health care proxies, are similar. 

Effect of Competency on Validity of Estate Planning Documents

Competency is a serious matter. If a person’s competence at the time of signing a will is questioned, a will contest may arise. If a court finds that the testator lacked the necessary mental capacity, the will may be declared invalid. This decision would keep the testator’s wishes from being followed. The estate would then be distributed according to Massachusetts’ intestacy laws, which might not align with the deceased’s wishes.

In the same way, if other estate planning documents are executed by someone who is not deemed competent, those documents too can be challenged and potentially invalidated. As you can imagine, such an occurrence can lead to strained family relationships, protracted courtroom battles, and the wishes of the testator being ignored.

Steps Needed to Prove Competency

If you have been, or are now, involved in a competency question or hearing, you know how complicated and emotionally distressing it can be. Whether the individual whose mental state is in question is suspected of having dementia or of being unduly influenced by a financial advisor or a caretaker, it is crucial to consult with an experienced estate planning competency attorney. 

Whether you are trying to establish competency or prove incompetence, our competency lawyers will work tirelessly to:

  • Gather supportive evidence, including medical records, witness testimony, and expert opinions from family physicians, psychiatrists, or other skilled professionals who can speak to the individual’s mental state at the time the documents were executed.
  • Strategize how best to present evidence during negotiations or at trial.
  • Advise you through mediation, if possible, so that the matter can be resolved diplomatically.
  • Represent you forcefully during litigation if the matter proceeds to court.

As your attorneys, we will fight to ensure that your rights are protected and your goals realized.

Contact Our Experienced Estate Planning Competency Attorneys Today

At Surprenant & Beneski, we know how stressful estate planning competency cases can be, involving as they do personal self-image and complex family dynamics as well as wealth distribution. Once you become our client, whichever side you’re on, we are on your side. More than that, we have a well-deserved reputation for providing caring personalized attention and a track record of successful outcomes.