Friday, January 21, 2000

The widow prepared a will leaving her estate to the nursing home.

IRWIN N. PERR, MD, JD a case study

The 88 year old widow prepared a will leaving her estate to the nursing home. When it was known that a will was being prepared, the daughter hired psychiatrist Z who had managed the patient during her six month psychiatric hospitali-zation five or six years earlier to reexamine her mother. The Mother Superior held the patient incommunicado and would not let the psychiatristwho had gone to the nursing home examine the patient.

There was marked conflict in psychiatric testimony by the psychiatristswho had in fact limited opportunity to examine the patient. The court decided that the patient was not shown to be mentally incompetent (that is,lacking testamentary capacity). The court did rule that the will was theresult of undue influence, resulting in the voiding of the will and the disposition of the estate to the daughter by an earlier will.

The determining factors were (1) the dependent and impaired conditionof the testator, (2) significant evidence of impaired mental functioning eventhough not of a degree to justify a finding of testamentary incapacity, (3)control of the environment by the beneficiary to the point where the testatorwas excluded from the outside world. This abuse of a trust situation and the suspicious circumstances resulted in a finding of undue influence.