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Last wills and testaments in a large sample of suicide notes: Implications for testamentary capacity

  • Mark Sinyor (a1), Ayal Schaffer (a2), Ian Hull (a3), Carmelle Peisah (a4) and Kenneth Shulman (a5)...
Abstract
Background

The leaving of a will prior to death by suicide is a relatively unexplored area.

Aims

To determine the frequency and details of will content in suicide notes.

Method

Coroner records for 1565 deaths by suicide in Toronto (2003–2009) were reviewed for (a) will content and (b) the presence of depression, psychotic illness, dementia and intoxication prior to death.

Results

In total, 59 (20.7%) of 285 available suicide notes were found to have will content. Of those who left a will, 43 (72.9%) were reported to have a major mood or psychotic disorder, but none had dementia. Fifteen of 19 toxicology samples showed alcohol, sedative hypnotic/benzodiazepine, opioid and/or recreational drugs were present.

Conclusions

A substantial minority of suicide notes may also include testamentary intent. The observed high rate of mental illness and substance use around the time of death has important clinical implications for understanding the mindset of people who die by suicide and hence also legal implications regarding testamentary capacity.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Mark Sinyor, 2075 Bayview Avenue, FG52, Toronto, Ontario, M4N 3M5, Canada. Email: mark.sinyor@sunnybrook.ca
Footnotes
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This work was supported by a grant from the Physicians' Services Incorporated (PSI) Foundation. M.S. has received grant support from the Physician's Services Incorporated Foundation and the Dr. Brenda Smith Bipolar Fund.

Declaration of interest

K.S. and C.P. have performed many assessments of testamentary capacity both contemporaneous and retrospective and have been qualified as expert witnesses in Ontario and Alberta, Canada and Australia, respectively.

Footnotes
References
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Last wills and testaments in a large sample of suicide notes: Implications for testamentary capacity

  • Mark Sinyor (a1), Ayal Schaffer (a2), Ian Hull (a3), Carmelle Peisah (a4) and Kenneth Shulman (a5)...
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