Petitioner Failed to Establish Undue Influence or Testamentary Capacity at Time Will was Executed

willPetitioner failed to establish undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity where her mother executed a will that left her entire estate to another family member.

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Alberta Wiggs (“testator”) died testate on July 2, 2016. She was survived by seven children, including petitioner and respondent. Respondent was the executor of the estate. The testator’s will left her entire estate to her grandson, who was the son of respondent. Petitioner claimed the will was procured while the testator was lacking testamentary capacity, or alternatively, the will was procured with undue influence of respondent.

Petitioner asserted that respondent and testator had a confidential relationship, and that respondent unduly influenced testator to favor one of the respondent’s children under the will. Petitioner contended respondent had a “bossy attitude” toward testator, held a power of attorney from testator, was a signer on testator’s bank account, and that she chose the lawyer who drafted testator’s will and transported the testator to the appointment with the lawyer. The court found that respondent did not exercise an overmastering influence over the testator, because several caretakers looked after the testator and she was not entirely dependent on respondent for advice or her daily needs. The only evidence regarding the selection of the attorney to draft the will was a statement from respondent that after one of the testator’s caretakers said she wanted to make a will, Respondent called SeniorLaw and they assigned testator to one of the attorneys on their list. Respondent did accompany testator to the appointment with the lawyer, but two caregivers were also present and they testified that the testator spoke directly to the lawyer without input from respondent. The court found respondent did not assert excessive influence with regard to the bank account or power of attorney. Accordingly, the court concluded that petitioner failed to meet her burden of proof as to the confidential relationship required for a claim of undue influence.

The medical evidence was conflicting as to the testator’s mental state. Some records indicated she was confused and forgetful at times, but other entries noted that the testator was alert, oriented and lucid. Plaintiff admitted she did not see the testator on the day the will was executed and could not testify as to the testator’s mental condition on that day. Also, petitioner did not provide examples of things the testator did not understand. Respondent was present on the day of the will signing, and she testified that her mother was clear and lucid during the meeting with the attorney. In light of the conflicting medical records and lack of specificity in petitioner’s allegations, the court held petitioner failed to establish that the testator lacked testamentary capacity at the time she made her will.

 

Reference: Estate of Wiggs, PICS Case No. 17-1420 (C.P. Philadelphia, Aug. 30, 2017). Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 40 PLW 917 (October 3, 2017)

 

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