May 29, 2012
Authored by: Luke Lantta
As baby boomers enter their 60s, eye disease and vision impairment are likely to become more prevalent in the population. How might that affect estate planning and will contests? Are there concerns if a testator cannot read the will he or she is about to execute?
We’ve previously looked at a case where a testator did not need to know the ‘mechanics’ of a will for it to be valid. Now, we turn to New Jersey, where an appellate court has concluded that a will is not invalid simply because the testator did not read the document before signing it.
The facts of In the Matter of the Estate of Betsy A. Schnitzer are worth a read. Likewise, the court spends a good deal of time discussing how undue influence presumptions work in New Jersey, which is particularly helpful for New Jersey practitioners. But, we want to look at the aspect of the case regarding signing a document the testator hasn’t read.
One of several grounds raised by Stephen Schnitzer, the son of Betsy A. Schnitzer, as to why Betsy’s estate planning documents were allegedly invalid was a claim that Betsy was blind and unable to read when she executed the documents.
The appellate court held that the key was not whether Betsy read the documents, but whether Betsy understood the contents of the documents and the documents were consistent with Betsy’s expressed testamentary intentions when she executed them.
Evidence that Betsy’s will complied with the statutory requirements (of which reading a will before signing is not one) was evidenced by Betsy’s estate planning attorney drafting the documents at Betsy’s direction, discussing the documents with her, and explaining the contents of the documents to her and their legal effect before she signed them.