Reed: Did long-time companion unduly influence the testator?

Sandra W. Reed
Special to the Reporter

When Zeke died at age 83, he left all his assets to Linda, the companion with whom he had lived for decades. He left nothing to his siblings, George and William. The brothers contested Zeke’s will on the basis that he was unduly influenced by Linda to favor her over them. What do George and William have to prove to show undue influence necessary to set aside Zeke’s will?

Sandra Reed

What constitutes undue influence?

To win their case, George and William must show: exertion of influence that subverted or overpowered Zeke’s mind and caused him to sign a will that he otherwise would not have signed if not for Linda’s influence.

What did the evidence show?

The evidence presented to the court showed that Zeke’s relationship with his brothers was strained. The brothers had practiced dentistry together until a fight between George and William erupted. George strangled William and would have killed him had Zeke not intervened. George never spoke to Zeke after that. The evidence before the court showed William did not know where Zeke lived.

Conversely, the evidence showed that Zeke and Linda had had a close relationship for thirty years. In 1995, Zeke executed a holographic will, that is, totally in his own handwriting, leaving one dollar each to his brothers and everything else to Linda with her son by a previous marriage the contingent beneficiary if Linda predeceased him.

In 2010, Zeke had the will that George and William contested drawn up by a lawyer. Prior to his appointment with the attorney, attended alone, Zeke had Linda write out notes he had previously made. The notes indicated he wanted to leave everything to Linda, making her son as contingent beneficiary and was disinheriting George and William, his niece, Stephanie, and her daughters, Phoebe and Oliva.

Did George and William prove their case?

Not only did George and William lose their case, but the Court also found against them by summary judgment. This meant that they were not even entitled to a trial on the matter because they had shown no evidence whatsoever that Linda had unduly influenced Zeke.

Note: Proof that Fact is stranger than fiction: based on an actual case.

Sandra W. Reed practices, Elder Law in Somervell County, which includes handling probating of estates, drafting of wills, trusts, powers of attorney and deeds as well as estate and Medicaid planning.  She lives on beautiful Chalk Mountain and can be reached at 254.797.0211; 817.946.2809 or at sreed@kbzlaw.com.