And Here We Go Again – Another Undue Influence Case

January 20, 2010 | Erin Herbold

 

Here, a father died with an insurance policy benefitting his second wife. The father’s two sons brought suit against his estate claiming asking that the change of beneficiary designation on his life insurance policy to their step-mother be set aside because of undue influence.  The father had been married to the sons’ mother for 49 years until her death in 2002.  After she died, the father experienced health problems, including blindness and heart problems.  He then married a former high school classmate who took over his daily care and was his companion. 

An antenuptial agreement was executed between the spouses stating that each party retained their own property and could handle that property as if they were unmarried. Further, the father executed a new will devising his personal property to his wife in a life estate with the remainder of the farm property to be distributed equally to the boys. In June 2005, the father named his new wife the primary beneficiary of a $50,000 life insurance policy, which originally named his first wife as the primary beneficiary and his son’s as contingent beneficiaries. 

After their father’s death in 2007, the sons filed a petition against his estate, claiming that their step-mother and their father had a confidential relationship and the step-mother exerted under influence on him which caused him to change the beneficiary designation. While the step-mother did call the insurance agent and request a change of beneficiary form, she claimed that she did this at the father’s request. 

At trial, the district court found that there was no confidential relationship between the father and his second wife and no undue influence.  The sons appealed and the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed.  The court noted that a confidential relationship “does not arise solely from the fact that two people were married at the time of the transactions.” The step-mother was not in the room at the time of the signing of the form and a long-time friend of the father’s witnessed the signing of the document.  In addition, the sons could not show “such persuasion as results in overpowering the will or preventing him from acting intelligently, understandingly, and voluntarily” that would constitute under influence in this case. In re Estate of Lind, No. 9-854/09-0329, 2009 Iowa App. LEXIS 1714 (Iowa Ct. App., Dec. 30, 2009).