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Having a valid will in place is probably one of the last things many people think about, but proper estate planning is crucial, especially if people have specific wishes regarding their property and assets.

For legal practitioners, who are instructed to prepare a will, being able to identify and assess a client’s decision-making capacity is an important skill.

Josephine Pignataro, special counsel at HWL Ebsworth Lawyers and an Accredited Specialist in Wills & Estates, will be moderating and speaking at the upcoming Specialist Accreditation Conference 2024 on “The effect of cognitive impairment on testamentary and inter vivos decision-making capacity.”

Why this is this topic important for legal practitioners?

Pignataro will be moderating and speaking at one of the sessions. She will be joined by Rodney Lewis AM and Caroline Sims. Lewis is a senior solicitor at Elderlaw Legal Services and Sims is a partner at Teece Hodgson & Ward Solicitors.

The panel will discuss the impact cognitive impairment has on testamentary and inter vivos decision-making capacity. Other topics include the capacity requirements for different transactions, the difference between a medical and legal assessment of capacity and the extent to which the two methods overlap. “It is critical for legal professionals to understand the legal requirements for transactions and the effect that cognitive impairment has on decision making capacity in different contexts including capacity for making wills on [the] one hand and powers of attorney on [the] other,” says Pignataro.

As people live longer, there are more conditions which may affect cognition. Cognitive decline can commence years before a formal diagnosis has been made and according to Pignataro, it is imperative for practitioners to know how these conditions can affect capacity. “This reduces the risk of transactions being set aside and costly litigation for parties,” she says.

“Assessing whether the client is capable and able to give instructions that represent their own mind is critical [for] a solicitor carrying out their professional responsibilities.”

Watch Josephine Pignataro present at the Accredited Specialist Conference

As an accredited specialist, Josephine Pignataro handles a range of issues from administration of estates involving complex, urgent, or unusual circumstances, to acting in probate proceedings dealing with the validity and rectification and construction of wills.

She is on the Elder Law Committee at the Law Society of NSW and is also a trained collaborative estates law practitioner. “[I]t’s about understanding the full picture … and trying to come to a view and a position that everyone can be relatively satisfied with.” she says.

The Specialist Accreditation Conference 2024 will be held on 15 – 16 August 2024. Day one of the conference will be held at the International Convention Centre in Sydney and day two will take place online. Information about sessions and presenters can be found here.