734-359-7018
Now Accepting New Clients!
Blog

PROBATE 44: The court held that the probate court did not err by declaring a will executed by the decedent invalid on the basis that she lacked testamentary capacity to execute it and that it was the product of petitioner’s undue influence.

Defendant and Decedent met in August 2017. In approximately November 2017, Decedent began talking constantly about wanting Defendant to take her to see an attorney for the purpose of changing her will. On March 19, 2018, Defendant filed a petition to be appointed Decedent’s guardian.  The probate court approved a full guardianship on March 27, 2018. On May 4, 2018, while Defendant was at work, she received a call from the Decedent’s resident facility that Decedent’s condition was “severe.”   After further discussion, Defendant decided that she would draft a will on her own and she typed up a document.  Defendant admitted that she was aware that Decedent already had a will. However, she claimed that Decedent had told her that all previous wills and legal documents had been revoked. According to the record before us, Decedent had previously executed two wills, both prepared by an attorney, in 2008 and 2009. Over the course of the next several days, Decedent’s condition deteriorated. She died on the morning of May 12, 2018, at the age of 85.

Defendant filed a petition nominating herself as personal representative of Decedent’s estate and requesting that the May 4, 2018 will be admitted to probate. Because Decedent was not survived by any known heirs, the State Public Administrator received notice of the petition. MCR 5.125(A)(1), MCL 700.3306(1). On behalf of the State Public Administrator, the Attorney General (“AG”) filed an objection to Defendant’s petition and argued that the May 4, 2018 will did not meet the requirements of a valid will under MCL 700.2502 because there was only one witness to the testator’s signature. The AG further argued that Decedent lacked the testamentary capacity to execute the will and that the will was the product of Defendant’s undue influence. After scheduling an evidentiary hearing, the probate court concluded that Decedent lacked the capacity to execute the will on May 4, 2018.  Further, given the apparent validity of Decedent’s May 29, 2009 will, the probate court appointed a successor personal representative. This appeal followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The standard of review on appeal in cases where a probate court sits without a jury is whether the court’s findings are clearly erroneous.  A finding is clearly erroneous when a reviewing court is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made, even if there is evidence to support the finding. 

ANALYSIS

Defendant first argues that the contestants failed to overcome the presumption that Decedent possessed the requisite testamentary capacity to execute her will, and therefore, the probate court erred by denying admission of the May 4, 2018 will on that basis. We disagree. To have testamentary capacity, a testator must “be able to comprehend the nature and extent of his property, to recall the natural objects of is bounty, and to determine and understand the disposition of property which he desires to make.” It is presumed that a testator had sufficient capacity to execute a will. The contestant of a will has the burden of establishing lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, fraud, duress, mistake, or revocation. MCL 700.3407(1)(c). Whether a testator had the requisite testamentary capacity is judged at the time of the execution of the instrument, and not before or after, except as the condition before or after is competently related to the time of execution. The evidence presented during the evidentiary hearing established that Decedent, at the time she signed the May 4, 2018 will, was 85 years old and had suffered for years from Alzheimer’s and dementia.  The fact that Defendant formulated the intent and then created the will without any prompting from Decedent is relevant to determining whether Decedent possessed testamentary capacity. After reviewing the record in its entirety, we conclude that the evidence supports the probate court’s finding that Decedent was unable to plan and effect any testamentary conveyances, without prompting and interference from others. Accordingly, the probate court did not clearly err when it denied admission of the May 4, 2018 will into probate on the ground that Decedent lacked the testamentary capacity to execute that will.

Next, Defendant argues that the contestants failed to establish that Decedent’s May 4, 2018 will was the product of undue influence. We also disagree. To establish undue influence, it must be shown that the grantor was subjected to threats, misrepresentations, undue flattery, fraud or physical or moral coercions sufficient to overpower volition, destroy free agency and impel the grantor to act against his inclination and free will. The fact that Defendant’s actions unduly influenced Decedent, is further supported by the fact that the resulting will did not actually evidence Decedent’s wishes.  Undue influence such as will invalidate a will, must be something which destroys the free agency of the testator at the time when the instrument is made, and which, in effect, substitutes the will of another for that of the testator. Defendant acknowledged that she “definitely” knew that it would have been Decedent’s wishes to have the Leader Dogs for the Blind included in her will. Nonetheless, Defendant never  asked Decedent if that continued to be her desire and she never included this charitable entity in the will she drafted. In sum, the probate court did clearly err when it found that Defendant was not able to successfully rebut the presumption of undue influence. Further, contestants satisfied their burden of proving a claim of undue influence. Accordingly, the probate court did not clearly err when it also invalidated the May 4, 2018 will on the ground that it was the product of Defendant’s undue influence.

CONCLUSION

We affirm the probate court’s order declaring Decedent’s May 4, 2018 will invalid on the basis that Decedent lacked testamentary capacity to execute the will and that the will was the product of Defendant’s undue influence.

Facing Probate and Estate Administration

If you have lost a loved one, the last thing you should have to deal with at this time is the confusing and often frustrating process of probate.

Aldrich Legal Services offers comprehensive guidance throughout the probate process, including the filing of petitions, notices to creditors, distribution of assets to beneficiaries and other services required throughout the probate process. We offer probate services for clients whose loved ones died with or without a will.

Contact Aldrich Legal Services

Speak to a Pro: (734) 404-3000

Choosing the right executor for an estate

Originally posted on 05/28/2017 When people are thinking about planning their estate, they often think about trying to minimize the estate tax, keeping their will updated, and keeping items out of probate court; however, there is another...

Understanding how the Miranda warning works

Originally posted on 11/25/2016 Michigan residents who have seen television police shows or movies involving law enforcement have no doubt watched many dramatic scenes with officers quoting something to the effect of, "You have the...

PROBATE 42: Dissolution of professional corporation.

This case involves the estate of a doctor whose professional corporation also had to be dissolved upon his death. The personal representative of the estate sold the company’s assets but did not pay off the company’s debts before transferring the proceeds to the estate and distributing them to the heirs.

A basic introduction to wills

Originally posted on 10/31/2016 It can be difficult to consider the end of our lives when we are in good health. However, lives can change at any moment, so it is wise to be prepared for any situation that may arise. Despite the many...

REAL ESTATE 73: Quiet title action.

This case involves a dispute over real property located in Michigan. W and V who are D’s parents, acquired the property. In 1999, W and V conveyed the property to the Trust, to which W is the sole trustee, via a quit claim deed. At some point...

How Is Alimony Determined In A Michigan Divorce?

Originally posted on 06/22/2018. When filing for divorce in Michigan, you may seek alimony, spousal support, from their spouse whenever they require financial aid. A judge may order your spouse to pay certain alimony. However, it depends...

Is My Conviction Eligible for Expungement?

Originally posted on 10/11/2019. At one point or another, we have all made mistakes. For some people, those mistakes involved breaking the law. Convictions have a large impact on someone’s life. Beyond the sentencing ranging from...

PROBATE 45: The court held that the probate court did not err by granting summary disposition for Plaintiff, or by denying Defendant’s request for an extension of the discovery period, adjournment of mediation, and issuance of subpoenas and by dismi

This case arises out of competing petitions for probate. On November 19, 2018, Defendant initiated this case by filing a petition for probate, attaching Decedent’s death certificate and purported last will and testament, dated March 9, 2007,...

DIVORCE 57: Holding that the trial court’s factual findings were not supported by the record evidence, and thus could not stand, the court reversed, vacated the portion of the Amended Default JOD ordering defendant to pay $3,325 to plaintiff, and re

Plaintiff first testified that she and defendant purchased the marital home in 1995. At the time the first default judgment of divorce was entered in September 2017, plaintiff had the home appraised. The value of the home was determined to be...

FAMILY LAW 68: The court held that the satisfaction of the statute relating to the termination of parental rights does not necessarily provide clear and convincing evidence in a parenting time dispute that a child will be harmed by reintroduction to

In a separate case, defendant’s parents filed a petition to terminate plaintiff’s parental rights and adopt RM on the ground that plaintiff had been absent from RM’s life for over three years. One month before the petition was...

FAMILY LAW 66: The court affirmed the trial court’s retroactive child support modification as to the second credit to which plaintiff-mother admitted at the referee hearing, and reversed and remanded as to the trial court’s equitable abatement of th

The parties have two children in common, and both children are now adults. The parties were never married, but plaintiff was granted custody and defendant was ordered to pay child support. After the youngest child turned eighteen, defendant sought a...

FAMILY LAW 65: The court held that because the ECE was not altered by the change of school districts, the referee properly applied the preponderance of the evidence standard when reviewing the best interest and parenting time factors.

BASIC FACTS The parties divorced in 2018. Their judgment of divorce provided that plaintiff would have primary physical custody and that the parties would have joint legal custody of the two minor children. The judgment of divorce stated that the...

FAMILY LAW 64: The court reversed the trial court’s order granting joint physical and legal custody of the parties’ children to defendant-father, concluding that the trial court improperly conflated his motion to change custody with plaintiff-mother

The parties divorced in 2013. The judgment of divorce granted mother sole physical and legal custody and ordered that the child’s domicile would remain in Michigan. In 2015, the trial court granted mother’s motion to change domicile,...

Don't let a bad decision, unfair contract, or a messy divorce get in the way of a promising future!
Contact the experienced team at Aldrich Legal Services today to schedule your free initial
consultation
and secure reliable and trustworthy representation today!
Get the Help You Need From a Team You Can Truly Count On: (734) 404-3000
734-237-6482
734-366-4405