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Despite Dementia Diagnosis, Wyoming Man’s Will Is Valid

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Two years before Erwin W. Schlueter died in 1997 at age 85, he had completed his estate planning. He had signed a will, a durable power of attorney for financial matters and a durable power of attorney for health care. When his relatives contested the validity of the will, they pointed to the powers of attorney as evidence that Mr. Schlueter knew he was already incompetent to make his own financial decisions.

Mr. Schlueter and his wife Frieda had watched neighbor Chris Bowers grow up, and they were particularly fond of him. In 1994, Mr. Schlueter even named the youngster as alternate agent in his power of attorney, to take effect if Frieda should die before him. Mr. Bowers was only seventeen years old at the time.

There was no doubt that Mr. Schlueter suffered from dementia at the time he executed his powers of attorney and (later) his will. His relatives asserted that the mere fact of the dementia diagnosis should be evidence of incapacity, and that they should be permitted to make the case for invalidating his will to a jury. In addition, they argued, when Mr. Schlueter signed the immediately effective power of attorney he tacitly admitted his own incapacity even before the will was signed.

Mr. Schlueter’s doctor and the witnesses to the will all agreed that he was confused, and that his short-term memory was poor. Mr. Bowers argued that the mere fact of a dementia diagnosis was not enough to get the case before a jury, and that the family had to show more specific evidence of lack of capacity.

Mr. Schlueter’s relatives pointed to the will itself. It identified his mother as his mother-in-law, and vice versa. It also described him as the “testatrix,” which would have made Mr. Schlueter a female. In response, Mr. Bowers submitted the affidavit of the secretary who prepared the wills for the Schlueters; she explained that she had prepared Mrs. Schlueter’s will first, and then switched names to make the identical will for Mr. Schlueter, and that the failure to switch “mother” and “mother-in-law” and to change “testatrix” to “testator” were her mistakes, not Mr. Schlueter’s.

The Wyoming Supreme Court reviewed the affidavits submitted and decided that there was insufficient evidence of incapacity to even submit the matter to a jury. The mistakes in the will, said the court, “demonstrate clerical carelessness rather than incapacity,” and the mere diagnosis of dementia did not preclude a finding that Mr. Schlueter had sufficient capacity to sign his will. Finally, granting a power of attorney, even an immediately effective power, can not be construed as an admission of incapacity. Estate of Schlueter, January 11, 2000.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.