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Estate of O'Brien-Hamel

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

June 10, 2014

ESTATE OF RUTH E. O'BRIEN-HAMEL

Argued April 8, 2014.

On the briefs and at oral argument: William H. Childs, Esq., Childs, Rundlett, Fifield & Altshuler, LLC, Portland, for appellant Jennifer Edmondson.

Jason Dionne, Esq., Isaacson & Raymond, P.A., Lewiston, for appellee Donald Hamel.

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, SILVER, MEAD, GORMAN, and JABAR, JJ.

OPINION

Page 690

SILVER, J.

[¶1] Jennifer Edmondson appeals from an order of the Androscoggin County Probate Court ( Dubois, J. ) denying her petition for a formal adjudication of intestacy and for appointment as personal representative of the estate of her mother, Ruth E. O'Brien-Hamel. Jennifer contends that the Probate Court abused its discretion in permitting Donald F. Hamel Sr., Ruth's current personal representative, to present the testimony of Ruth's hospice-care physician despite failing to timely or properly designate the physician as an expert. Jennifer further contends that the Probate Court erred in finding that Ruth had the requisite capacity to make a will. We affirm the judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] The following facts, which are supported by competent evidence in the record, are drawn from the Probate Court's factual findings and are viewed in the light most favorable to the court's judgment. See Estate of Greenblatt, 2014 ME 32, ¶ 2, 86 A.3d 1215.

[¶3] Ruth E. O'Brien-Hamel died on October 27, 2012, at the age of fifty-five. Ruth is survived by her three children, Jennifer Edmondson, Sean O'Brien, and Erin O'Brien. She is also survived by Donald F. Hamel, whom Ruth married the day before her death [1] and to whom she left all of her property by a will executed the same day.

[¶4] Ruth and Donald met in November 2005, and soon thereafter began living together at Ruth's home in Auburn. In addition to the residence where she and Donald lived, Ruth partially owned a farm that had been in her family for many years.

[¶5] Ruth was estranged from her children in the final years of her life. With the exception of an unsuccessful attempt to reconnect at a family funeral in February 2011, Ruth had not seen Jennifer since Christmas 2005 or 2006. Although Jennifer and Ruth spoke over the phone one or two years before Ruth's death, that conversation caused Ruth to become sad, and when Donald intervened Jennifer said, " [Y]ou deal with it," and hung up. In 2011, while Erin was residing with Ruth and Donald, she got into an argument with Ruth. After giving Ruth an " ultimatum" requiring Ruth to choose between her and Donald, Erin moved out

Page 691

and did not return. Ruth had no contact with Sean or his children after 2011.

[¶6] Ruth was admitted to Central Maine Medical Center (CMMC) on October 4, 2012. Ruth was initially diagnosed with pneumonia, but it was later determined that she had untreatable, stage-four lung cancer. During her stay at CMMC, Ruth had difficulty breathing, grimaced in pain after procedures were performed to remove fluid from her body, and was prescribed morphine, which caused her to go into a deep sleep.

[¶7] Ruth's brother, David Hunnewell, visited Ruth twice daily and kept Ruth's children apprised of her condition. Ruth spent part of her hospitalization in the intensive care unit. While Ruth was in the ICU, she was heavily medicated, was not lucid, and had a tube in her throat. Ruth became more lucid and communicative after she was transferred out of the ICU; at that time, she told David that she wanted to make a will and wanted Donald to have her home, but said that she did not want to bother Donald with the farm property. David testified, however, ...


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