Wills - Undue Influence

In re Estate of Russell, 311 S.W.3d 528 (Tex. App.—El Paso 2009, no pet. h.).

Testatrix’s will was successfully contested by her granddaughters who claimed that Testatrix was subject to undue influence when she executed her will. The appellate court examined the evidence and found it sufficient to prove the elements of undue influence and thus affirmed.

The appellate court made a summary review of the evidence focusing on one child’s involvement with having his mother execute a will disinheriting her granddaughters contrary to the provisions of her prior wills. Despite Testatrix having testamentary capacity, the court determined that because she made an unexpected unnatural disposition of her property by removing her grandchildren as beneficiaries, the jury could conclude that this feat could only have been accomplished through Son’s exercise of undue influence.

Note that the court also determined that Son tortiously interfered with the granddaughters’ inheritance rights and that the trial court appropriately awarded costs against Son even without proving good faith with sufficient cause because they were not seeking their attorney fees under Probate Code § 243.

Moral: A jury finding of undue influence will be very difficult to overturn on appeal even if the facts supporting the finding are weak.