Probate Court Decision Upheld by Superior Court
The Cranston Probate Courts decision to grant a Petition To Probate A Will over the objection of Appellants, will remain undisturbed as the Petitioner presented evidence to support the testator had capacity to sign estate planning documents, including the Last Will and Testament that was presented to the Probate Court.
Nanci Parenti lived in Cranston, Rhode Island. For almost sixteen years she lived with Mr. Jagolinzer, who had a close friendship with her. In March 2019, Ms. Parenti learned that she had a cancerous brain tumor. Thereafter, treatment did not appear to be successful. In May 2019, she moved to a nursing home and later moved to another nursing home. In October 2011, Ms. Parenti
wrote a will (2011 Will), apparently without the assistance of an attorney.
Attorney Reis met with Ms. Parenti about the prior executed Will. Able to converse with Ms. Parenti in the nursing home, they agreed that Attorney Reis should prepare new estate planning documents. Attorney Reis and Ms. Parenti discussed how she wished to divide her estate, and she described her assets to him. On June 27, Attorney Reis, his office assistant Ms. Cannata, and Mr. Jagolinzer met at the nursing home for Ms. Parenti to sign a new will (June 2019 Will). Ms. Parenti was less communicative and physically drained but understood who Attorney Reis was and that she was signing a new will.
At the signing of the will, Attorney Reis found Ms. Parenti to be competent and understanding of what Attorney Reis was saying but less able to express herself. Ms. Parenti acknowledged that she was signing the will freely.
Ms. Parenti also executed a Health Care Power of Attorney on June 25, 2019, which Mr. Reis and Ms. Cannata witnessed.
On July 17, 2019, Ms. Parenti passed away.
Appellants contend that Ms. Parenti lacked the testamentary capacity required to execute her will in June 2019. “It is well-settled that in a will contest, the proponent of the will bears the burden of proof of testamentary capacity by a fair preponderance of the evidence.”
Testamentary Capacity: The 4 point Test
The proponent must establish that the testator:
(1) had sufficient mind and memory to understand the nature of the business she was engaged in when making her will;
(2) had a recollection of the property she wished to dispose of thereby;
(3) knew and recalled the natural objects of her bounty, their deserts with reference to their conduct and treatment of her and their necessities; and
(4) the manner in which she wishes to distribute her property among them.
Here, Appellee has established that Ms. Parenti possessed testamentary capacity when she signed her will in June 2019. Mr. Reis testified that, despite being less communicative and
physically drained, Ms. Parenti understood what she was doing when signing her will. Mr. Jagolinzer testified that it was clear Ms. Parenti wanted her will to be correct, and Ms. Cannata
stated Ms. Parenti “expressed understanding” what she was signing when executing the will. Mr. Westerman and Ms. Rodriguez, in contrast, testified that Ms. Parenti was in a deteriorating state;
however, they did not see her until after the will was signed and her illness had progressed.
Testimony of Witnesses
Considering the testimony of all five witnesses, the Court concludes that Ms. Parenti had sufficient mind and memory to understand the nature of what she was doing when executing the will. The
only testimony questioning Ms. Parenti’s sound mind was based on an interaction days after she signed the will, with a progressive illness.
The Court finds that Ms. Parenti recalled her property and how she wanted the property distributed, based on the fact that she was able to describe her assets to Mr. Reis and discuss her
intentions for her estate. Testimony from Mr. Reis describing his discussions with Ms. Parenti regarding how to distribute her property suggests that she understood how she wanted the property
distributed and to whom, she knew and recalled the objects of her bounty and she understood the manner in which the property would be distributed.
Each independent witness to the will testified consistently with their affidavits. It is clear that Attorney Reis spoke with Ms. Parenti before the will was executed. It is likely that this
meeting was just four days before the signing of the will, as the power of attorney is dated June 25, 2019. Ms. Cannata and Mr. Reis witnessed the execution of both the Health Care Power of
Attorney and the June 2019 Will.
No Evidence of Lack of Capacity
By contrast, Appellants have not provided any evidence of Ms. Parenti’s mental state when she signed the will or the days leading up to it, such as medical records or testimony that she lacked capacity on the day of signing. The Court cannot rely only on testimony that describes Ms. Parenti’s condition after she executed her will, even if the witness’s statement describes an interaction with Ms. Parenti only days after she signed the June 2019 Will. Rather, the Court was presented with credible testimony from multiple witnesses that support she was of sound mind on the day she signed her will.
Attorney Involvement Involvement
Ms. Parenti sought help from Attorney Reis when she realized her purported October 2011 Will, which she believed was properly executed, had defects that called into question its validity. In an attempt to correct this potential problem, she executed a will in June 2019 with the same general terms as the 2011 Will. She acted so that her wishes would be clear, as to how she desired her property distributed when she passed. There is no claim or evidence here to support that Ms. Parenti was subject to undue influence, and little evidence to suggest that she lacked capacity. Rather, the evidence here tells the story of a seriously ill client seeking help from an attorney to correct a nearly decade-old will that she previously had believed was properly executed, and an attorney who promptly responded to that need.
“For the foregoing reasons, Appellants’ appeal of the probate court’s decision is denied. Ms. Parenti possessed the testamentary capacity to sign the June 2019 Will, which was executed fully in accordance with statutory requirements.”