Son Recieves $1 Inheritance, Suspects Undue Influence

by Joseph C. Maya on Apr. 05, 2017

Estate Estate  Wills & Probate Estate  Trusts 

Summary: Article about a son alleging undue influence in his father's will after only receiving $1 from the estate.

To speak with an experienced probate law attorney, please contact the experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

To prevail on a claim of undue influence, plaintiffs must prove not only undue influence but also that the operative effect was to cause the testator to make a will that did not reflect his actual testamentary desires.

In 2006, Dr. Bassford signed a will that left the bulk of his estate to his three children from his first marriage. In 2012, he updated his will and left the bulk of his estate to his third wife, Frances Bassford. He also gave $1 to his son, Jonathan, and personal items to his other children and grandchildren. The probate court concluded that the decedent possessed enough testamentary capacity to sign the 2012 will and that no evidence existed of undue influence. Dr. Bassford's children appealed to Connecticut Superior Court and argued that their father lacked testamentary capacity and was unduly influenced by his wife, Frances Bassford. Evidence existed that in 2012 Dr. Bassford's attorney and two witnesses visited Dr. Bassford and that Dr. Bassford signed the will in front of the witnesses. "Contrary to Plaintiffs' arguments," wrote the court, "the will was properly executed." Evidence existed that Dr. Bassford suffered from anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder as a result of his military service, as well as mild dementia, impaired hearing and urinary tract infections. Dr. Bassford's attorney, Annette Willis, testified that in 2011 Dr. Bassford was eloquent, well-spoken and coherent. He wanted his veteran's pension to be paid into his own account and he was unhappy with the conduct of his son, Jonathan. He wanted his other children and grandchildren to receive his antiques. He was concerned about adequate provisions for his wife, Frances. In April 2012, a psychiatrist met with Dr. Bassford and opined that he possessed sufficient cognitive ability to comprehend the nature of his assets and to express his wishes concerning his estate plan. The same day that he signed the will he observed errors on his healthcare directive and corrected them. "From Attorney Willis' testimony," wrote the court, "the court finds that he was functioning at his normal level on that day, that he was well-spoken, lucid and aware of the time and place."

The court did not credit the testimony of plaintiffs' psychiatric expert, Dr. Morgan, because he lacked the opportunity to observe Dr. Bassford. When Dr. Bassford revoked a trust in June 2012, he possessed "greater mental capacity [than] legally required" and "clearly" comprehended his decision. The court also rejected plaintiffs' claims that Dr. Bassford was subjected to undue influence. The elements of undue influence are a person who is subject to influence, an opportunity to exert undueinfluence, a disposition to exert undue influence and a result indicating undue influence. The mere opportunity to exert undue influencewas insufficient to prevail. Plaintiffs' suspicions alone of undue influence were not enough. "While Mrs. [Frances] Bassford was in a position to exert such influence," wrote the court, "the testimony of Attorney Willis and her independent observations of Dr. Bassford demonstrate that suchinfluence was not exerted." Appeal dismissed.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a probate law attorney about a will, trust, or estate matter, please contact the experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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Source: J.T.R. Quinn, Child Who Received $1 Failed to Prove Undue Influence, 42 Conn. Law Trib. 16 (April 18, 2016) at 18

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