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In re Strittmater

    Brief Fact Summary. Appellants appeal from a decree admitting decedent’s will to probate based on the ground that the decedent was insane when her will was executed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A person may have sufficient mental capacity generally to execute a will but may be suffering from an insane delusion so as to cause a particular provision in a will, or perhaps the entire will to fail for lack of testamentary capacity.

    Facts. Louisa F. Strittmater, decedent, was born in 1896 and lived with her parents until their death in 1928. her admiration and love of her parents persisted after their death until at least 1934. However, four years later, she wrote derogatory comments about her mother and father in the margins of books and on photographs of her parents. In the opinion of the only medical witness, Dr. Sarah D. Smalley, who was decedent’s physician all of her adult life, decedent suffered from paranoia of the Bleuler type of split personality. In 1925 decedent became a member of the New Jersey branch of the National Women’s Party and worked for them as a volunteer in the New York office from 1939 to 1941. During this period she spoke about leaving her estate to The Party and on October 31, 1944, she executed her last will, putting this intention into effect. A month later she died. Decedent’s will was denied admission to probate based on the ground that decedent was insane. The appellants, T
    he National Women’s Party, appeal.

    Issue. Whether the decedent’s will was the product of her insanity?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    Decedent’s disease seemed to have become well developed by 1936. She had been a member of the Women’s Party for eleven years at that time but the evidence doesn’t show that she had taken great interest in it. The court believed it was her paranoiac condition, especially her insane delusions about the male, that led her to leave her estate to the National Women’s Party.


    Discussion. The Master who heard the case in court found that the decedent’s comments she had written in books and on photos of her parents demonstrated “incontrovertibly her morbid aversion to men” and “feminism to a neurotic extreme.” The court found that characterization was not strong enough to conclude the decedent suffered from an insane delusions.


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