What Impact Might MAID Have on a Will Challenge?

January 30, 2020 Nick Esterbauer Capacity, Estate Litigation, Health / Medical, Wills Tags: , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

In preparing my other blogs this week, I spent some time considering the issue of how we might see the increased access to medical assistance in dying (MAID) impact our practice area.  As such, I thought that I would finish off this series of blogs focusing on MAID with a hypothetical question I have not yet encountered in practice, but which is inevitably going to be raised: what impact, if any, does MAID have on a will challenge?

Our regular readers will already be well aware that capacity is task, time, and situation specific.

Presumably, the standard of capacity applying to the decision to access MAID is that required to make other personal care decisions, such as receiving or refusing medical treatment.  Section 45 of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, defines incapacity for personal care as follows:

A person is incapable of personal care if the person is not able to understand information that is relevant to making a decision concerning his or her own health care, nutrition, shelter, clothing, hygiene or safety, or is not able to appreciate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of a decision or lack of decision.

I have been unable to find any literature suggesting whether the standard may be somewhat heightened as a result of the significant impact of the decision to actually receive MAID.

The standard for testamentary capacity typically applied remains that set out in the old English authority of Banks v Goodfellow.  While some have suggested that the standard of testamentary capacity be updated, we are generally concerned with the same, well-established criteria:

It is essential to the exercise of such a power that a testator shall understand the nature of the act and its effects; shall understand the extent of the property of which he is disposing; shall be able to comprehend and appreciate the claims to which he ought to give effect; and, with a view to the latter object, that no disorder of the mind shall poison his affections, pervert his sense of right, or prevent the exercise of his natural faculties—that no insane delusion shall influence his will in disposing of his property and bring about a disposal of it which, if the mind had been sound, would not have been made.

While, historically, standards of mental capacity were viewed as hierarchical, recent case law and commentary have strayed from this understanding, instead viewing the different standards of mental capacity as just that: different.  Courts will consider whether an individual understood the nature of the decision being made and appreciated the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their decision.

Consent to MAID must be confirmed very shortly before it is administered, which restriction has been of considerable controversy.  While possessing the capacity to confirm consent to obtain MAID may not correspond to testamentary capacity, it may nevertheless become evidence suggestive of a degree of mental capacity that is valuable (in conjunction with other evidence) in establishing that a last will and testament executed shortly before death is valid.

Whether the fact that MAID has been achieved will be important evidence on a will challenge in support of testamentary capacity or not remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to see how the laws relating to MAID evolve and how incidents of MAID may impact estate law over time.

Thank you for reading,

Nick Esterbauer

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