Daughter Unduly Influenced Mother’s Will

January 10, 2010 | Erin Herbold

 

A challenge to the validity of a will often comes in the form of a concerned party accusing another party of imposing their will on the testator.  Typically, such scenarios arise when the one party has a close relationship with or a position of authority over the testator.  Here, the parents had three children- one son and two daughters. The mother was estranged from one of the daughters as a result of a “physical altercation.”  When the other daughter passed away, the remaining daughter reconnected with her mother. The father died in 2005.  However, the daughter did not attend the funeral. The son became ill later in 2005. At the time, the son knew he was the executor of his mother’s will, so his mother met with an attorney to discuss changes to the will. When the attorney prepared a completed will two weeks later, with the husband of the deceased daughter appointed as executor, the mother signed the will and it was properly executed. 

The prodigal daughter returned to Iowa for her brother’s funeral in July 2005. She decided to stay in Iowa after she found out about the new will, which nearly excluded her and her children from inheriting under the will. Four days later, the daughter accompanied her mother around town, adding her own name to her mother’s bank accounts, and was with her mother when the mother executing a new will which named the daughter as the sole beneficiary. In July 2006, the daughter purchased a $163,000 house for cash drawn from the mother’s bank account. 

Other family members became suspicious about the daughter’s reappearance and felt they were being kept away the mother.  While all of this was occurring, the mother’s health and memory began to decline to the point that she seemed to be unaware of her financial position. Thus, a guardianship/conservatorship was established with the daughter being named her guardian and an outside individual being named conservator.  In January 2007, in response to family pressure, the daughter did execute a quitclaim deed, transferring the house to the mother’s name alone. 

Over the next few months, however, the daughter blocked access to her mother’s accounts every time the conservator attempted to take inventory.  Eventually, the mother became quite ill and was hospitalized.  The mother was discharged from the hospital to a nursing home. The conservator then filed an application with the court to find the mother, as he was not kept informed of her current location by her daughter. The court ordered the daughter to divulge her mother’s location and she failed to do so, leading to her removal as guardian. The mother died in September 2007. 

A month later the daughter petitioned for probate of the mother’s will that named her as the beneficiary. Other family members contested the will. At trial, the court found that the mother was competent at the time the will was executed, but had been unduly influenced by her daughter.  Thus, the court set aside the will.  The daughter appealed, claiming that the trial court inappropriately admitted the expert testimony of her mother’s physician. 

The Iowa Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s admission of the expert testimony.  It’s basically an issue of deference - the trial court has the discretion to determine whether the testimony is necessary and relevant. Only clear cases of abuse by the trial court warrant a reversal of admission of expert testimony.  Here, the expert was an experienced physician who practiced primarily in geriatrics and even specialized in dementia disorders like the one the mother was experiencing. The doctor concluded that the mother could have been susceptible to undue influence. Therefore, the mother had the mental ability to execute a will in Iowa, but not the mental ability to stand up for herself against the undue influence of her daughter.  In re Estate of Gray, No. 9-700/08-2005, 2009 Iowa App. LEXIS 1705 (Iowa Ct. App., Dec. 30, 2009).