The decedent was estranged from her daughter Cheryl, the defendant, for almost 25 years, but they reconciled shortly before her death, when the decedent was ill.

In 1996, the decedent and her husband had executed wills and a trust, excluding Cheryl from their estates. In 2006, the decedent and her husband consulted with a special needs attorney regarding their estate plan and their three disabled sons’ public benefits. In 2012, they told the attorney that they wanted 95% of their estates to go into a special needs trust for the disabled sons. In 2017, the decedent advised the attorney that she was housebound, that Cheryl had returned, and that she would be revising her estate documents. In 2017, the decedent and her husband (who predeceased the decedent) executed new wills and a trust. In the 2017 wills, half of their $3 million estate was to pass to a special needs trust for their 3 sons; and the balance passed to Cheryl and Cheryl’s daughter. The special needs attorney certified that the decedent had the capacity to execute the 2017 estate documents, that they had been discussed in detail for more than a decade, and that he observed no reason to believe that the decedent was being unduly influenced.

The decedent’s disabled son Gregg challenged the will, claiming lack of capacity and undue influence. Following discovery, Cheryl filed a motion for summary judgment. In a written decision, the trial judge granted Cheryl’s motion in its entirety.

With regard to the lack of capacity claim, the judge noted that even plaintiff conceded that the capacity claim was “arguable.” The judge found plaintiff failed to proffer any evidence of lack of capacity, other than “blanket allegations,” which were insufficient to defeat summary judgment.

As to the undue influence claim, the judge noted that the initial elements of a “confidential relationship” and “suspicious circumstances” must be established for the burden of proof to shift to the proponent of the will. The judge noted that “the mere existence of family ties does not create a confidential relationship,” and that all the evidence in the case contradicted plaintiff’s claim of a confidential relationship between the decedent and Cheryl. At the time the estate documents were signed, the decedent and her husband were not dependent on any of the parties, with the possible exception of the plaintiff himself, who had claimed that he was the one the decedent relied on throughout her life. With regard to the “suspicious circumstances” issue, the court found that the entire claim was based on Cheryl’s long period of estrangement. However, the court found that this argument ignored the 1997 birth of Cheryl’s child (their only granddaughter) and the three sons being awarded governmental benefits, including lifetime health care. The court relied upon the fact that the estate plan had been prepared over the course of a decade, with a well-respected attorney who specialized in the field, and concluded that the execution of the estate documents was “not even remotely suspicious.”

Finding no genuine issue of material fact regarding the issue of capacity or undue influence, the court granted summary judgment to the defendant, dismissing the case.

A copy of In re Estate of Mayo can be found here – In re Estate of Mayo

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