By Michael J. Tucciarone
The Massachusetts Appeals Court in Scanzani v. Scanzani (84 Mass. App. Ct. 1102, July 12, 2013) upholds a trial court’s finding that a mother’s favoritism to one son in her estate plan was not due to her incompetence.
Lauretta Scanzani was born in 1922 and has four sons. After she decided to sell her house and give her estate entirely to one son, Mrs. Scanzani’s excluded sons filed an action in Probate Court seeking the appointment of a guardian due to her alleged incompetence. The Probate Court dismissed their complaint ruling that they failed to demonstrate their mother’s incompetence. They appealed.
The three sons presented evidence to demonstrate their mother’s incompetence, emphasizing a specific incident involving the mother’s inability to find her car. Mrs. Scanzani, in response, presented statements from paramedics who said she was able to answer all questions and did not appear confused
Her excluded sons also pointed to their deteriorating relationship with her, her disinclination to leave her house, her weight gain, her lack of memory and her cardiologist’s suspicion that she may have had a minor stroke. Mrs. Scanzani’s estate planning attorneys testified that they met with their client extensively and opined that she was competent. In its decision the Massachusetts Appeals Court notes that the estate planning attorneys’ roles were significant as “an attorney, in drafting a will, has a general duty to be alert to issues relating to testator-client’s competence and, if indicated, make a determination based on reasonable inquiry.”
Further strengthening Mrs. Scanzani’s position, her cardiologist expressed a similar opinion as to her competence. The Court rules that the probate court rightfully recognized and gave weight to the opinions provided by her attorneys and cardiologist, which has long been recognized as material to determining competency in Massachusetts.
The Appeals Court finds that the judge did not abuse his discretion in finding that the sons failed to carry the burden of demonstrating incompetence. Though Mrs. Scanzani favored one son over the others in her estate plan, it was not due to her incompetence.
Michael Tucciarone is a law clerk with Margolis & Bloom.