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Trusts & Estates

Lesson Learned from Astor Trial: Document Client’s Mental Capacity

Posted Oct 26, 2009 11:42 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Once upon a time, New York estate practitioners only had to worry about potential civil litigation if there was a problem with a will they drafted. But after the high-profile criminal conviction earlier this month of a lawyer who represented heiress Brooke Astor before her death at age 105, attorneys now know that they could potentially serve jail time if the district attorney questions their motives.

Experts say the Astor case is a reminder that precautions—such as having a physician examine a client before he or she signs a will or asking the client to provide a handwritten explanation of why a change in its provisions is desired—should be considered in some representations, reports the New York Times. In rare cases, videotaping the execution of the document may be necessary.

“It may be time to look at whether or not there needs to be changes as to the level of capacity required to make a will,” attorney Clifford Meirowitz tells the newspaper. “Even lawyers who are ethical and do things right, they make mistakes sometimes.”

Additional coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Lawyer Led Astor’s Son Astray in $60M Fraud Says Ex-Jury Holdout (a Lawyer)"

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