In a will contest, the Surrogate’s Court concluded that although the testator had health issues, those issues did not impact his cognitive ability. Matter of Feggins, 2019 NY Slip Op 29277
In Matter of Feggins, the Surrogate’s Court was asked to determine whether a will should be invalidated because the testator’s cognitive ability was impaired. In New York, testamentary capacity is a crucial requirement for creating a valid last will and testament. Testamentary capacity refers to the legal capacity of an individual to understand the nature and consequences of creating a will. To meet this requirement, the individual must have a sound mind and be capable of comprehending the value and distribution of their assets. The individual must also have an understanding of the relationships with their family members and the impact of their decisions on their loved ones. Failure to meet the testamentary capacity requirement can result in the will being declared invalid, which can lead to disputes and legal challenges over the distribution of the individual’s assets after their death.
Matter of Feggins involved the estate of Henry Feggins, who passed away in 2014, leaving behind a will that was dated 2007. The will named his niece, Yolanda, as the executor of his estate and provided for specific bequests to his sister and several other relatives. The will also left the residue of his estate to Yolanda.
However, after Feggins passed away, his nephew, James, challenged the validity of the will, arguing that Feggins was not of sound mind when he executed it. James claimed that Feggins suffered from dementia and did not have the capacity to make a will at the time he signed it.
The case was heard by the New York Surrogate’s Court, which is responsible for overseeing estate proceedings. The court considered evidence from several witnesses who knew Feggins in the years leading up to his death, including medical professionals who had treated him for various health issues.
Ultimately, the court found that Feggins did have the capacity to make a will when he signed it in 2007. The court noted that while Feggins had some health issues, including diabetes and high blood pressure, there was no evidence that these conditions affected his mental capacity. The court also found that Feggins had a clear understanding of the nature and extent of his property and the people who were to receive it under his will.
The court’s decision to uphold the validity of Feggins’ will is significant because it highlights the importance of having a will that is properly executed and reflects the wishes of the testator. It also shows that challenges to the validity of a will based on the testator’s mental capacity can be difficult to prove, especially if the will was executed with the proper formalities.
The case also underscores the importance of having a well-drafted will that is tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of the testator. In Feggins’ case, the will provided for specific bequests to his sister and several other relatives, while leaving the residue of his estate to his niece. This type of estate plan may be appropriate for some individuals, but it may not be the best approach for everyone.
For example, if Feggins had wanted to ensure that his estate passed to his closest relatives or to a specific charity or cause, he could have included provisions to that effect in his will. Similarly, if he had concerns about the potential for will contests or disputes among his heirs, he could have taken steps to address those issues in his estate plan.
In the end, the Matter of Feggins highlights the importance of having a well-drafted will that reflects the testator’s wishes and is executed in accordance with applicable law. It also underscores the need for individuals to consider their unique circumstances and objectives when developing their estate plan, and to seek the guidance of a qualified New York estate lawyer who can help navigate the complex legal and financial issues involved. Stephen Bilkis & Associates have over 20 years of experience representing clients in complex estate cases including will contests and other types of probate litigation.