Can someone with dementia sign a will?

Millions of people are affected by some form of dementia. Unfortunately, many of them don’t have all their estate planning affairs in order before the symptoms begin to appear. This is another good reason to speak with an elder law attorney now, rather than putting off such a discussion.

However, if someone you know has symptoms of dementia, it might not be too late to sign a will or other estate planning documents.

In order for a will to be valid, the person signing it must have “testamentary capacity,” which means that he or she must understand the implications of what’s being signed. It’s not the case that people automatically can’t sign a will if they’re affected by a disease or a mental illness. This doesn’t matter as long as the person is lucid enough at the time to know what they’re doing.

Generally, people are considered mentally competent to sign a will if they:

  • Understand the nature and extent of what they own.
  • Remember who their relatives and descendants are.
  • Are able to articulate who should inherit their property.
  • Understand what a will is, and how it disposes of their assets.
  • Understand how all these things relate to each other and come together to form a plan.

If there’s any question about a person’s competency, an attorney might take steps to determine competency and to prove that the person is legally able to make a will. For instance, a doctor or other witness might be asked to verify that the person is lucid enough to understand what he or she is doing.

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