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Expert Requirements In Pennsylvania Will Contests

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If you retain an expert for your will contest, knowing the requirements to qualify an expert in your state is essential. In Estate of Fabian, the Pennsylvania court reviewed the requirements to qualify an expert in a Pennsylvania will contest.

What Are The Requirements To Serve As An Expert In A Pennsylvania Will Contest?

The expert requirements in a Pennsylvania will contest or any litigation are:

The standard for qualification of an expert witness is a liberal one. The test to be applied when qualifying an expert witness is whether the witness has any reasonable pretension to specialized knowledge on the subject under investigation.

It is not a prerequisite that the expert be possessed of all of the knowledge in a given field, only that he possess more knowledge than is otherwise within the ordinary range of training, knowledge, intelligence or experience.

 

The Qualifications In This Case

In Estate of Fabian, the Orphan’s Court refused to qualify a nurse as an expert on mental capacity. The nurse was offered as an expert with respect to mental capacity and the cognitive abilities of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The nurse testified:

  • She was a registered nurse employed as the director of nursing at the personal care home where the testatrix lived.
  •  She had held that position for about four years.
  • Her job was to oversee the care of all residents, screen potential residents, perform monthly assessments on all residents, and perform admissions and discharges.
  • Her assessments encompassed cognitive and mental function
  • She had no special certifications related to patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
  • For a period of ten years, until October 2016, she held a certification as a psychiatric mental health nurse from the American nurses credential Center, which included course work in Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The proponents of the will objected to the qualifications of the nurse as an expert in dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and mental capacity on the basis that she lacked specialized knowledge, training or certification in those areas. The proponents also objected based on her failure to submit an expert report.

The Orphan’s Court recognized the nurse as an expert in the general field of nursing. The Pennsylvania Orphan’s court declined to qualify the nurse as an expert in competency determinations because it determined that she did not meet the expert requirements in this will contest. In declining to recognize the nurse as an expert in competency determinations, the court stated:

Nurse Young testified that she is a graduate nurse from a diploma program, but that she does not have a bachelor’s degree. She does not have any specialized certifications related to the care of patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Additionally, Nurse Young as never before been qualified as an expert witness by any court, and has not published any papers regarding patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia. She did not prepare an expert report related to her testimony in the instant matter.

Any Reasonable Pretension To Specialized Knowledge On The Subject

The appellate court found that the Pennsylvania Orphan’s court was wrong when it refused to qualify the nurse as an expert witness in the will contest.

The test to be applied when qualifying an expert witness is whether the witness has “any reasonable pretension to specialized knowledge on the subject under investigation.”

Here, the nurse “clearly possessed ‘specialized knowledge [regarding the treatment of the cognitively impaired’ which would not otherwise be known to a lay individual.”  Her knowledge was enough to meet the expert requirements for this Pennsylvania will contest.

An expert witness does not need formal education on the subject matter of the testimony and may be qualified to render an expert opinion based on training and experience.

Ultimately, the appellate court determined that the error in not qualifying the nurse as an expert was not harmful or prejudicial to the opponent of the will, because her testimony would have been cumulative.

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