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Legal Memorandum: Interpretation of the Term "Incapacitated"

Issue: How have courts previously interpreted the term "incapacitated"?

Area of Law: Estate Planning & Probate
Keywords: Incapacitated; Interpretation; Will or trust
Jurisdiction: California
Cited Cases: 871 A.2d 767
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 05/01/2007

No California cases were found applying or interpreting the term “incapacitated” as used in the context of the ability to take under a will or trust.  Most probate cases from other jurisdictions that define “incapacitated” interpret it to mean unfit and unable to govern one’s self and manage one’s own affairs, e.g., In re Guardianship of Macak, 871 A.2d 767 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2005); or likely to suffer harm as a result of an inability to provide for one’s personal needs and property management, e.g., Application of Rochester General Hosp., 601 N.Y.S.2d 375 (N.Y. Super. Ct. 1993). 

Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004) defines incapacitated person” as “[a] person who is impaired by an intoxicant, by mental illness or deficiency, or by physical illness or disability to the extent that personal decision-making is impossible.” The same source defines “legally incapacitated person” as “[a] person, other than a minor, who is temporarily or permanently impaired by mental illness, mental deficiency, physical illness or disability, or alcohol or drug use to the extent that the person lacks sufficient understanding to make or communicate responsible personal decisions or to enter into contracts.”  It would not appear that the term “incapacitated” is generally used to connote death, although death is, arguably, certainly an incapacitating event.   

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