Key point 4-03. A gift to a church or minister may be challenged on the ground that the recipient unduly influenced the donor into making the gift. There are several factors the courts will consider in deciding whether or not undue influence occurred, including the age and mental health of the donor, and the presence of independent legal advice. Undue influence generally must be proven by "clear and convincing" evidence.
A Florida court ruled that an elderly woman's estate plan that left her entire estate to her church could not be altered through the undue influence of the woman's caretaker, who attempted to redirect the estate to herself. An elderly woman (the "decedent") and her late husband executed a family trust and pour-over wills in 2009, several months before he died. The trust provided that, if the husband died first, then upon his wife's death, the entire estate would go to their church. When the wife died, the estate was valued at $350,000 consisting of bank accounts. No document existed purporting to take these accounts out of the estate left to the church—until a few days before the wife died.
Mary was the decedent's neighbor, friend, and health-care surrogate. She had hired her former daughter-in-law to help care for the decedent. In contrast to the disinterested witnesses who testified that the entire estate was intended to go to the church, Mary and her former daughter-in-law testified that the decedent told them she did not want the church to have the money from the credit union accounts. They acknowledged that she never expressed this contrary intention in the presence of other people. They said that the decedent had asked Mary to get a "payable on death" (POD) form from the credit union and fill it out to give Mary 75 percent of the credit union accounts, 10 percent each to her son and daughter, and the remaining 5 percent to her former daughter-in-law. Mary obtained the POD form and completed it in this manner, with the beneficiary information appearing only on the first page of the form. She obtained the decedent's signature on the second page.