In the Matter of Wanda W. Jones
Massachusetts Supreme Court
379 Mass. 826, 401 N.E.2d 1351 (1980)
In 1975, Wanda Jones was deemed to be incapacitated due to mental incompetence in conservatorship proceedings. Jones’s conservator (the conservator) had known Jones and her later-deceased husband since 1950. In 1968, as Jones’s attorney, the conservator drafted a will for Jones under which most of Jones’s assets would pass to charities. Evidence suggests that the will was drafted per Jones’s instructions. Jones never signed the will but also never repudiated its provisions. Jones made annual gifts to the charities listed in the draft will. As Jones’s conservator, the conservator drafted an estate plan for Jones that would create trusts providing distributions to Jones during her lifetime, with remainders going to charities. The conservator petitioned the probate court for approval. The conservator published notice of the conservatorship proceedings in a newspaper for three weeks, pursuant to a court order, and concluded that Jones had no heirs based on his long acquaintance with Jones and her husband, inquiries to Jones’s brother-in-law, statements by Jones that she had no relatives, and the failure of any party claiming a family relationship to respond to the newspaper notices. The court appointed a guardian ad litem to represent the interest of unascertained heirs. The guardian opposed approval of the estate plan, alleging the conservator had failed to search for heirs with reasonable diligence. The probate judge found that the estate plan was in keeping with Jones’s wishes insofar as they could be ascertained but did not issue a judgment and asked the appeals court to respond to questions of law arising from the proceedings. The case was transferred to the state supreme court.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Abrams, J.)
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