In the Matter of Gittleman, the court considered the issue of testamentary capacity in the context of a will contest. Testamentary capacity refers to a person’s ability to understand the nature and consequences of creating a will. The law requires that a person creating a will must have the capacity to understand the extent of their property, the natural objects of their bounty, and the disposition they are making. In order to establish testamentary capacity, the testator must be able to understand the nature and consequences of their actions, and they must not be suffering from any mental illness or infirmity that would impair their judgment.
The case involves the estate of Lillian Gittleman, who passed away in 2003. Lillian had executed a will in 2001, in which she left her entire estate to her son, Leonard. Her other son, Jeffrey, contested the will, claiming that Lillian lacked the mental capacity to create a valid will at the time she executed it.
In Matter of Gittleman, the evidence presented by Jeffrey showed that Lillian suffered from dementia and had undergone significant cognitive decline in the years leading up to the execution of the will. Jeffrey argued that Lillian lacked the mental capacity to understand the nature and consequences of the will at the time she executed it.
The court held that Jeffrey had met his burden of proof and established that Lillian lacked testamentary capacity when she executed the will. The court found that Lillian’s cognitive decline was significant, and that she was unable to understand the nature and consequences of her actions.
The court noted that the evidence presented by Jeffrey showed that Lillian had significant memory problems, was easily confused, and had difficulty performing even basic tasks. The court found that these symptoms were consistent with dementia and were indicative of a lack of testamentary capacity.
The court also noted that the will in question had several irregularities, which further supported the claim that Lillian lacked the mental capacity to execute a valid will. For example, the will had been executed in a lawyer’s office, but there was no evidence that the lawyer had explained the terms of the will to Lillian. Additionally, the will had been signed by only one witness, instead of the two witnesses required by law.
The court concluded that Lillian lacked the testamentary capacity to execute a valid will and that the will was therefore invalid. The court also noted that there was evidence that Leonard had exerted undue influence over Lillian in the creation of the will, but because the court had already found that Lillian lacked testamentary capacity, it was unnecessary to address the issue of undue influence.
The case of Matter of Gittleman provides an important framework for establishing testamentary capacity in the context of a will contest. The case highlights the importance of establishing the mental capacity of the testator at the time of the execution of the will and the need for proper formalities in executing a will, such as the presence of witnesses and an explanation of the terms of the will.
The case also underscores the importance of ensuring that a testator’s wishes are respected and that they are not unduly influenced or taken advantage of. In the case of Lillian Gittleman, the evidence showed that she was suffering from dementia and was unable to understand the nature and consequences of her actions. Her son, Leonard, who stood to benefit from the will, was found to have exerted undue influence over her in the creation of the will.
If you have concerns related to the validity of a will, it’s important to discuss the matter with an experienced New York will contest lawyer. The New York will contest lawyers at Stephen Bilkis & Associates have over 20 years of experience representing clients in complex estate cases including will contests and other types of probate litigation.