The Concept of Capacity
I recently learned that an old neighbour of mine was residing in a long-term care facility and I decided to visit him. As a child, I remember my neighbour would often come out to join us in a pick up game of baseball or street-hockey. Having known my neighbour to be a strong and vibrant individual, and despite having prepared myself, it was nonetheless disarming for me to see him in need of assistance and so dependent on others. Although, in my practice, I have cause to consider the issue of capacity almost daily, this experience caused me to reflect on the issue in a much more personal fashion.
Lawyers, particularly in our area of practice, are often required to consider capacity issues and it is easy to allow our personal views to affect our analysis. For instance, if my neighbour left his entire estate equally among his three children, in most circumstances we would presume he had capacity. However, if he left his estate to his caregiver, to the exclusion of his children, most of us would be inclined to conclude that he had either acted for want of capacity or was perhaps coerced to make a Will while vulnerable to undue influence.
People do not typically become incapacitated overnight, except in circumstances where a catastrophic event has occurred. Capacity to make a Will has been described as knowing and understanding the nature and effect of your dispositions and understanding who would be the natural persons to enjoy the bounty of their estate.
In making this determination, if there is any doubt regarding a client’s capacity it is surely advisable to obtain the appropriate capacity assessment in the circumstances.
Have a great week!