Corpus Christi court upholds undue influence verdict

Corpus Christi court upholds undue influence verdict

In Estate of Jose M. Rodriguez the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals considered a verdict denying probate to a will because of undue influence. The court of appeals upheld the jury’s verdict.

Proof of a claim of undue influence has three elements: (1) the existence and exertion of an influence; (2) that subverted or overpowered the testator’s mind at the time he executed the instrument; (3) so that the testator executed an instrument he would not otherwise have executed but for that influence. A contestant may establish undue influence by direct or circumstantial evidence, but it is more frequently established by the latter.

The opinion notes the following evidence in support of the jury’s finding of undue influence:

  • the testator lived with his daughter, who was the sole beneficiary of the will. This provided her with opportunity to influence her father;
  • the daughter wrote a number of check’s on her father’s account, for her expenses;
  • the testator trusted his daughter to the extent that she ran down his account until checks bounced;
  • the daughter selected the lawyer who prepared the will, took the testator to the lawyer’s office and was present during most of the visit;
  • the will left everything to the one daughter, disinheriting his seven other children, including one confined to a wheelchair;

While not one single piece of evidence standing alone is typically sufficient for undue influence, a number of pieces of circumstantial evidence added together will often support a finding of undue influence.

Undue influence rarely presents like the story in this classic Godfather scene:

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