Readers of this California estate planning blog may be familiar with the purpose of a will. Generally, a will is a testamentary device that puts into words a person’s wishes for how their property and assets will be passed on to others when they die. For example, through a will a person may bequeath their jewelry to their daughter, their fishing gear to their son and their vacation home to their sibling.

There are several requirements that must be fulfilled for a will to be considered valid. These requirements are in place to ensure that fraud and duress do not influence the terms that individuals put into their estate planning tools. One of the requirements that must be in place for a will to be considered valid is the demonstrated mental capacity of the person who is making their will.

Having demonstrated mental capacity means being of “sound mind” under California law. This means that the person creating the will is aware of the process that they are engaging in, understands what property they are electing to dispose of through their will and knows and agrees to bequeath that property to the individuals named in their will. Certain medical conditions that cause hallucinations or delusions may preempt individuals from having sufficient mental capacity to make their own wills.

If a person lacks a sound mind at the time their will is made, then that will may later face challenges from the creator’s heirs. A will may be thrown out as invalid of it can be shown that the creator did not understand what they were doing when they signed the will in the estate planning process.

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