While many people know the role forensic psychiatry can play in criminal cases, many are surprised to learn that it plays an important role in probate as well. Often, when an individual leaves behind a will, there may be questions about whether they were of sound mind at the time the will was written. The term “testamentary capacity” refers to a person’s legal and mental abilities with regard to making or amending a will.
Forensic psychiatrists are often used to look at the evidence in the case of a deceased individual to determine their testamentary capacity at the time their will was made or altered. In addition, the psychiatrist can assess the individual during the planning stages of the will in order to secure the individual’s plans for how their estate will be appointed after their death. It does not bring the details of the will into play, but the events and conditions that may have influenced the person to make decisions about the content of the will.
The forensic neuropsychologist also plays an important role in this process. When a will is contested after the individual’s death, either professional may be required to look at the individual’s state of mind during the time they made the will along with what influences may have played a role in the final decision of the deceased. Although the opinions that are given post-mortem are not allowed to include a psychiatric examination on which to base the diagnosis, medical records and written deposition testimony are considered in composing a picture of the functions of the decedent at the time.