New York Mental Hygiene Law Article 81 provides the guidelines and the procedure to appoint a Guardian for Personal Needs and Property Management for persons with incapacities. Provisions of the law also provide the Court with the power to modify, amend or revoke different types of transactions or documents entered into while a person was incapacitated such as a contract, power of attorney or health care proxy. New York Mental Hygiene Law Section 81.29(d).
In many instances the incapacitated person is elderly. The transfer of property by means of a power of attorney or the conveyance of real estate by deed where the power or deed was executed while the person was incapacitated may not reflect the incapacitated person’s estate plan. In fact, such transfers may result in giving assets to individuals that would otherwise not be beneficiaries of choice.
A recent example of a Court exercising its authority to void certain transactions entered into by an incapacitated person is found in Matter of Jerry M. v. Geraldine P., decided by Justice Wilma Guzman on June 15, 2010 (Bronx Supreme Court), as reported in The New York Law Journal on June 18, 2010, p. 18. In her decision, Judge Guzman found that Geraldine P. was incapacitated and appointed a Guardian for personal needs and property management. In addition, the Judge annulled a marriage that Geraldine P. had entered into and voided a deed she had signed transferring her home. The Court found that Geraldine did not understand the nature and consequences of either the marriage or the deed transfer.
Improper control over the affairs of an incapacitated person is often the setting for what later turns out to be a Will contest or estate dispute when assets intended to be bequeathed or otherwise transferred upon death to loved ones are directed to other parties prior to death. An interesting aspect of the Court’s powers relating to the revocation of documents concerns a person’s Last Will and Testament. In the past there had been occasions where the Guardianship Court invalidated a Last Will and Testament that the Court had found to be executed while a person was incapacitated. However, a recent amendment to Section 81.29 (d) of the New York Mental Hygiene Law prohibits the revocation or invalidation of a Last Will or Codicil during the lifetime of the incapacitated person. Thus, the validity of a Last Will must be challenged after the person’s death during the probate proceeding after the Will is filed in the Surrogate’s Court.
Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in New York Guardianship, Probate and Estate Administration proceedings throughout the past 30 years. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about New York Guardianship, Probate or Estate Administration, please contact me for an initial consultation.