After an individual’s death, litigation regarding the decedent’s estate can arise in a variety of contexts. A common claim asserted in an estate litigation is that the decedent lacked “testamentary capacity” (the capacity to make a will). An individual’s mental capacity is judged based upon the transaction or act that the person is undertaking. One commentator has explained that legal capacity exists on a spectrum, such that a person’s capacity may be insufficient to perform what is considered to be a more complex act (such as entering into a contract), but may be sufficient to perform what is considered to be a more simple act (such as making a will). Frolik, L. and Radford, S., “Sufficient” Capacity: The Contrasting Capacity Requirements for Different Documents, 2 NAELA Journal 303, 304 (2006). Adults are generally presumed competent to execute a Last Will and Testament. Haynes v. First Nat’l State Bank, 87 N.J. 163, 175-76 (1981).

Testamentary capacity is evaluated at the time of the execution of a will, and is summarized as follows:

The gauge of testamentary capacity is whether the testator can comprehend the property he is about to dispose of; the natural objects of his bounty; the meaning of the business in which he is engaged; the relation of each of the factors to the others, and the distribution that is made by the will …. [a]s a general principle, the law requires only a very low degree of mental capacity for one executing a will …. A testator’s misconception of the exact nature or value of his assets will not invalidate a will where there is no evidence of incapacity …. [I]t is not ignorance of the kind or amount of property owned by the testatrix which invalidates [a] will, but ignorance resulting from a mental incapacity to comprehend the kind and amount of such property.

In re Liebl, 260 N.J. Super. 519, 524-25 (App. Div. 1992), certif. denied, 133 N.J. 432 (1993) (citations omitted).