Courts occasionally invalidate wills found to have been the result of "undue influence." While charities ordinarily are the ones accused of exerting the undue influence in order to obtain testamentary gifts, they sometimes are themselves the victims of undue influence. Such was the case in a recent Minnesota lawsuit.
An elderly widow executed a will leaving most of her sizable estate to the Salvation Army and another church agency. Later, while in her mid-90's, she developed a relationship with a physician who showed a special interest in her. The two saw each other socially, and the widow viewed the relationship as romantic. The widow thereafter amended her will to leave her entire estate to a medical foundation.
Following her death, the church organizations objected to the admission of her will to probate, arguing that it was the result of undue influence by the physician. In rejecting this contention, the court observed that "undue influence must be shown by clear and convincing evidence. That evidence must go beyond suspicion and conjecture and must show that the influence was so dominant and controlling of the testator's mind that in making the will the testator ceased to act of his or her own free volition and became a mere puppet of the wielder of the influence."
The court pointed to six factors to be employed in determining whether or not undue influence has occurred: "(1) the opportunity to exercise an influence; (2) active participation in the preparation of the will by the party exercising the influence; (3) a confidential relationship between the will-maker and the party exercising the influence; (4) disinheritance of those who probably would have been remembered; (5) singularity of the will provisions; (6) exercise of influence or persuasion to make the will in question." Application of these factors, stated the court, could not result in a finding of undue influence. The widow was "an unusually alert, active and strong-willed person," and no evidence suggested that the physician was actively involved in the preparation of the new will. While there was no doubt that the widow had been influenced, there was insufficient proof that she had been unduly influenced. In re Estate of Overton, 417 N.W.2d 653 (Minn. App. 1988)