New York Guardianship and Estate Settlement Often Cross-Paths

New York Guardianship proceedings for incapacitated persons are governed by Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law (MHL). The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed in numerous posts the powers and duties of a Court appointed Guardian.

In many instances, a petition for Guardianship is filed with the Court because the Alleged Incapacitated Person (“AIP”) appears to be the victim of physical or economic abuse. The Guardianship proceeding will require the appointment of a Court Evaluator and/or Attorney for the AIP. These appointees and the Court itself will review whether any wrongdoing is being perpetrated. Sometimes, a government agency called the New York State Mental Hygiene Legal Service is appointed to protect the AIP’s interests. MHL Section 81.29 entitled “Effect of the appointment on the incapacitated person” provides the Court broad powers to remedy situations where the AIP has been taken advantage of. For example, the Court can void a contract or a power of attorney entered into by the AIP if the Court finds that the AIP lacked capacity when such papers were signed.

Even though the statute gives the Guardianship Court broad powers to remedy wrongdoing, MHL Section 81.29(d) specifically provides that the Court cannot “invalidate or revoke a will or a codicil of an incapacitated person during the lifetime of such person.” Thus, if the AIP signs a Last Will at the time he or she is found to be incapacitated while still alive, any objection or Will Contest to the validity of the Will must wait until the AIP is deceased and the Will is offered for probate.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that a finding of incapacity in a Guardianship proceeding does not mean that a person lacked the testamentary capacity to execute a Last Will. MHL Section 81.29(b) specifically provides that “subject to subdivision (a), the appointment of a guardian shall not be conclusive evidence that the person lacks capacity for any other purpose, including the capacity to dispose of property by will”.

Since a Last Will cannot be challenged until a person dies, many issues involving the disposition of the AIP’s estate are fought over only after the AIP dies. Estate settlement and estate administration becomes the new battle ground for problems that could not be settled in the Guardianship.

The Courts clearly recognize that while the overlap of controversies may exist, the paradox of a finding of incapacity for Guardianship cannot forestall an incapacitated person’s ability to sign his or her Will.

This circumstance was clearly shown in a recent case entitled Matter of Biaggi, decided by Justice Alexander W. Hunter, Supreme Court, Bronx County, on November 10, 2011 and reported in the New York Law Journal on November 28, 2011. In Biaggi, objections were filed to the action of the Guardian for retaining an attorney to assist the incapacitated person with drafting and executing a new Last Will. The Court found that the Guardian acted appropriately and noted that “allegations of testamentary capacity and undue influence are matters that should be more appropriately be brought up, if necessary, post-mortem and not at this time before this Court.”

New York City Guardianship Attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Guardianship matters in the Bronx and Manhattan throughout the past 30 years. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York Guardianship, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email:, for an initial consultation.

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