Tuesday, June 17, 2014
The Maine Supreme Court recently approved a will prepared by a social worker for decedent who was on her deathbed. Ruth O’Brien-Hamel was dying from lung cancer, and in the weeks before her death had been in and out of the hospital. The day before she died, Ruth was in hospice care and relayed to a social worker that she wanted to make a will in favor of her boyfriend. The social worker subsequently prepared the will that Ruth signed. Later that day, Ruth and her boyfriend were married. Ruth died the next day.
Ruth’s family contested the validity of will, and argued they should take intestate. The medical evidence presented by the family included testimony from Dr. Kevin Kendall, who opined the “synergistic effects of Ruth’s sodium level, blood pressure, oxygen level, medications, pain, and imminence of death resulted in Ruth being incapable of normal judgment and reasoning during her stay at the hospice.”
However, Ruth’s boyfriend, who argued in favor of the capacity brought forth evidence asserting that while “Ruth experienced some delirium while at the hospice . . . that delirium would not necessarily render a person incapable of knowing what his or her assets are.” The doctor testified that morphine can affect cognitive abilities, but “it does not do so for most patients and the dosages administered to Ruth were low.”
Arguably, the Court’s decision stemmed from its desire to do justice. Ruth was estranged from her children for several years prior to her death, and Ruth and her boyfriend had been living together for several years before she died.
See Jeffrey Skatoff, Deathbed Will + Deathbed Marriage + Morphine + Delirium = Valid Will, Clark Skatoff, June 15, 2014.
Special thanks to Jeffrey Skatoff (Clark Skatoff) for bringing this article to my attention.