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Capacity To Sign Will Challenge Failed

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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.”

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL COURT DECISION

Estate Planning and the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Estate Planning Amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic has impacted every corner of the world at this point. As medical experts, financial advisors, and our colleagues that specialize in healthcare law, employment law, and other related areas are busy advising clients on the best course of action for the weeks and months ahead, we – as estate planners – also want to remind our clients and friends of some important considerations during these uncertain times.

At this point, we would simply promote the following actions to ensure that your estate planning affairs are in order:

(1) Review your existing documents. Make sure that you have copies (either paper or electronic) of your existing estate planning documents, and review them to confirm that they still reflect your wishes. If you cannot locate your documents, consider calling or emailing your estate planning attorney to obtain copies.

(2) Pinpoint any items that require attention sooner rather than later. As you review, take note of any major changes that may have occurred in your family since you last updated your estate plan. These might include child births, deaths, marriages, divorces, etc. And also consider whether the individuals that you previously appointed to serve as your agents are still appropriate.

(3) Follow up with your loved ones and advisors.

  • Make sure that your loved ones know to contact your estate planning attorney in the event anything should happen to you. This includes your named executor (i.e. personal representative under your will, or trustee of your trust), guardian for your minor children, attorney-in-fact under your financial durable power of attorney, and patient advocate under your health care power of attorney.
  • Consider reaching out to your financial advisor, insurance advisor, etc. to ensure that your beneficiary designations are up to date and discuss any new planning opportunities relative to your current financial status.
  • If you require any medical attention in the near future, confirm that your medical provider has a copy of your patient advocate designation and is informed as to who you wish to have access to your confidential health information.

NOTE – If you do not already have an estate plan, now is as good of a time as any to consider the opportunity before you. Having a will/trust, a durable general power of attorney, and a healthcare power of attorney can certainly contribute to a healthy state of mind.

9 Estate Planning Terms You Need To Know

By Estate Planning

Estate Planning Terms

No one likes to think about one’s own death. However, planning ahead can help your family avoid unnecessary complications, delay, and expense. This may be done through wills, trusts, joint ownership, and life insurance. In addition, modern estate planning also includes “life” planning through powers of attorney and health care proxies. These enable someone else to act for you in the event of your incapacity. Understanding the following terms is the first step toward planning your estate. However, no estate planning steps should be taken without consulting with a qualified professional.

  • Probate

This is the name for the process in the Probate Court through which the ownership of your assets passes to your heirs. It includes the collection of your assets, the payment of your bills, and the distribution of your estate. It only covers what you own outright, not joint property, trust property, life insurance proceeds, or any assets that have beneficiaries or payable-on-death terms.

  • Will

Your will is a legally binding statement of who will receive your property at your death. It also appoints a legal representative to carry out your wishes. However, the will only covers probate property.

  • Estate Tax

The estate tax applies to both the probate and the nonprobate property of the decedent. For federal purposes, the amount free from taxation is $5.6 million as of 2018 per individual, $11.2 million per married couple. For Rhode Island, a person can pass $1,537,656 free from estate taxation.

Reading your Estate Planning documents is critical to understanding your plan

  • Marital Deduction

On the federal level, anything passing to the surviving spouse of a decedent is not included in the taxable estate and, consequently, is not subject to taxation. All of the couple’s assets are then taxed upon the death of the surviving spouse, unless an estate tax plan has been executed.

  • Trust

A trust is a legal entity under which one person—the “trustee”—holds legal title to property for the benefit of others—the “beneficiaries.” The trustee must follow the rules provided in the trust instrument. An irrevocable trust is one that cannot be changed after it has been created. A revocable trust is one that may be changed or rescinded by the person who created it. Trusts are often used for tax planning, to provide for someone with expertise to manage assets, or to shelter assets to protect them from creditors or for long-term care planning.

  • Durable Power of Attorney

Under a power of attorney, you may appoint someone else to act for you when you are unable to do so yourself. The reason may be your mental incapacity or your inability to be somewhere when needed. The person you appoint—your “attorney-in-fact”—must always act in your best interest and try to make choices you would make if you were able to do so.

  • Health Care Proxy

Similar to a power of attorney, through a health care proxy you may appoint someone else to act as your agent—but for medical, as opposed to financial, decisions. Unlike a power of attorney, the health care proxy does not take effect until your doctor determines that you are incapable of making decisions yourself. Before that decision, your agent may make no decisions on your behalf. You may include in your proxy a guideline for your agent to use in making decisions. These may include directions to refuse or remove life support in the event you are in a coma or a vegetative state. On the other hand, your instructions may be to use all efforts to keep you alive, no matter the circumstances.

  • Community Spouse Resource Allowance (CSRA)

If your spouse has to move to a nursing home, you will have to pay for his or her care out of pocket until he or she qualifies for Medicaid. Under the Medicaid program the nursing home spouse may only have $4,000 in “countable” assets. (Noncountable assets include your home, household belongings, one car, and prepaid funeral plans.) The amount the healthy spouse is permitted to keep under the Medicaid program is known as the “community spouse resource allowance” or “CSRA.” The CSRA is all of the couple’s combined assets up to a cap of $123,600 (in 2018). In some cases, the community spouse is entitled to retain assets above the $123,600 limit when her income is less than the minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance, which is described below.

  • Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance (MMMNA)

The Medicaid rules also govern the amount of income the community spouse is entitled to once the nursing home spouse qualifies for Medicaid. Normally, the community spouse keeps his or her income and the nursing home spouse pays his or her income to the nursing home, keeping only a $50.00-a-month “personal needs allowance.” However, if the healthy spouse’s income is low, he or she may be entitled to a share of the nursing home spouse’s income. In each case where a married nursing home resident qualifies for Medicaid, the Department of Human Resources calculates a “minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance” or “MMMNA” for the community spouse based on his or her housing costs. This will range from a low of $2,057.50 to a high of $3,090.00 a month (in 2018). If the community spouse’s own income is below his or her MMMNA, he or she will be entitled to a share of the nursing home spouse’s income to make up the difference.

Want to learn more? Contact Attorney Matthew J. Leonard, Esq. at 401-401.648.7000 or at mleonard@smsllaw.com to arrange for a free consultation.

Estate Planning Protects Your Loved Ones and Savings

By Medicaid Planning and Gifting

ESTATE PLANNING: For All Stages Of Life

Don’t put your life savings at risk. Meet with an attorney to discuss your estate plan. We have a plan for all ages and stages of life. Call attorney Matthew Leonard at 401-401.648.7000 for your free consultation.

Procrastination in most things in life will bring about bad results. Estate Planning is no exception. It has been said that A FAILURE TO PLAN IS A PLAN TO FAIL. In the context of estate planning – it is very true.

Regardless of if you are single, newlywed, married with kids, empty nesters or retired.

Regardless if you are in fine health, average health, or failing health.

Regardless if you are rich, poor or all measurements in between.

With your estate plan you get to ensure that your assets are protected during your life, and then the people you are most concerned for get to benefit from what you have died. Meeting with an attorney to discuss your story – your concerns – your wishes is the only way you can ensure your dreams and wishes are fulfilled.

Contact our office to discuss your estate planing goals.

 

6 Major Reasons For Planning Your Estate

By Uncategorized

Estate and asset protection planning provides solutions to the following types of concerns:

Estate_planning

How will I avoid the cost and inconvenience of probate for my spouse and children?

If you have ever been confronted with needing to administer an Estate for a loved one who died without a will or estate plan, they quickly realize the time and expense associated with the probate process.  For many clients, the best solution is a revocable trust, often referred to as a living trust. This document when funded will enable you to avoid the probate process.

 

If I can’t make legal, financial, or healthcare decisions for myself, how can I be sure my wishes are carried out?

Again, a revocable trust may provide the answer. In addition, every client needs a durable power of attorney and a health care proxy appointing a trusted individual to make financial and health care decisions for you when you no longer can yourself.

 

How can I make sure my wealth and possessions end up in the right hands when I’m gone?

Wills and trusts are vehicles for passing on your assets to those you choose. Many clients are concerned about funds they leave to their children being at risk of their children’s creditors, spouses upon divorce, or simply bad decisions their children may make. For them, a family protection trust can provide the protection they seek. In addition, proper planning will prevent the payment of unavoidable estate taxes upon your death.

 

My spouse needs more care than I can give. Will we lose everything to pay for care, or are there options?

Not if you plan properly, the earlier, the better. There are a number of planning options available to spouses of nursing home residents to protect their financial well-being while qualifying their ill spouse for Medicaid coverage of nursing home fees.

 

My child is disabled. How can I provide for her future?

We have helped many parents of children with special needs plan for their children through the creation of a special needs trust funded with life insurance.

 

What legacy will I leave?

Your greatest legacy of course is the children and grandchildren you raise, if any, and the memories you leave with your family, friends, and work colleagues. However, support of charities and an estate plan that provides for your family and smoothly passes on what you leave behind will also contribute greatly to the legacy you leave and your family’s welfare for decades to come.

Contact us today for more information 401.648.7000

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A Last Will And Testament Is NOT An Estate Plan

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A Last Will And Testament Is Good Enough, Right?

Will

The Reading Of The Will

Will readings. Family gathered around the table, dressed in black, all sitting in a lawyers office while the lawyer reads to the family. That is how Hollywood has projected it and how it works. The decedent signed the document during their life and the family all learn at the same time who got what.

While that can happen in real life, rarely does it occur. More importantly, and the bigger point of this article, this should NOT happen.

A Will As Part of the Estate Plan – Not the Entire Plan

A Last Will And Testament is a proper and necessary document that all people should have. But the Will is only PART of the documents a person should have as part of their estate plan. A Will is the beginning – not the beginning and the end! A Will should be accompanied with Trust, Durable Powers of Attorneys, Health Care Powers of Attorney, Deeds, Conveyances, Bequests and an overall goal to ease administration and ensure the wishes of the deceased are followed, and followed efficiently.

A Will does not avoid probate – it causes probate

A Will alone does not ease the administration of Estates, it only guarantees that there will be a probate estate to administer. The Probate Courts and the Probate Process is a lengthy, time consuming, expensive process that typically takes over a year to complete.

The attached article explains the impact of not having a full estate plan. While a will is a part of the estate plan, it is not the entire plan. Sadly, this lesson comes too late for some, like Mr. Sacks.

 

The Man who Mistook his Will for his Estate Plan

Meeting and discussing your estate plan with an attorney experienced in drafting and preparing estate plans is an important first step in ensuring your goals and objectives are met. Contact our office for a free consultation on planning your estate, the proper way.

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