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Estate planning requires a sound mind, but how is that defined?

Can a person think he or she is of sound mind but not be so? It is logical to assume that certain mental illnesses or levels of decline in mental capacity might prompt conditions wherein a man or woman is not fully aware that he or she is not fully aware. Dementia, for instance, may be present without the person afflicted by it realizing there is a problem. When it comes to estate planning, it is critical that an Illinois resident executing an estate plan be of sound mind; otherwise, the documents therein may be invalid.

How is a sound mind legally defined? Most states list two essential components to determining whether a testator is capable of executing a valid will or other estate document. First, the person must clearly understand what he or she is doing. He or she must also show understanding of the implications of the action; for instance, in signing a last will and testament, the estate owner must understand that he or she is planning for the distribution of assets.

If a person signing a will is under duress, such as a situation where someone else is using coercion to prompt the signature, it may invalidate the document in question, just as a mental deficit would. Being of sound mind with regarding to the estate planning process is known as having “testamentary capacity.” There are, in fact, additional requirements to ensure an estate plan’s validity.

Such requirements include age stipulations; all states require a person making a will to have reached the age of majority, usually 18. It is also typically required that a person executing a will must have two disinterested witnesses present to add their signatures to the document. An Illinois attorney who is well-versed in estate laws can explain the requirements in greater detail. Such an attorney can also remain available down the line, should any adjustments or updates be necessary in a particular plan.