Wills, Trusts, and Estates

Some documents may be invalid if donor was under ‘undue influence.’

Church Law and Tax 1996-03-01

Wills, Trusts, and Estates

Key point. A will or other legal document that transfers property to a church may be invalidated if the donor lacked mental capacity, or if the transfer was the result of “undue influence.”

A Louisiana court ruled that the fact that an elderly person changes her will to remove a gift to her church is not evidence of either a lack of mental capacity or undue influence. A woman left a substantial portion of her estate to her Catholic church in a will executed in October of 1992. In April of 1993, a few months prior to her death, she changed her will and removed the gift to her church and left her entire estate to a friend. The church alleged that the woman’s April 1993 will should not be admitted to probate since she lacked mental capacity a few months prior to her death to change her will, and that it was the product of “undue influence.” In rejecting these claims, the court acknowledged that the deceased for many years had intended to leave most of her estate to her church. However, it further noted that she “changed her mind about the Catholic church because of the many reports of homosexuality and pedophilia among priests.” This is indeed a tragic observation, and it suggests a further consequence of the tragedy of child molestation within churches. Succession of Braud, 646 So.2d 1168 (La. App. 4 Cir. 1994). [ Undue Influence]

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