Master Holds that Merely Being Old and Allegedly Suffering from Various Medical Conditions is Not Sufficient to State Claims of Lack of Capacity and Undue Influence

Delaware Fiduciary Litigation Blog

Posted April 4, 2014

IMO the LW&T of Blanche M. Hurley, deceased, et al. C.A. No. 8473-ML (March 20, 2014)

Master LeGrow dismissed a petition by two brothers who alleged that their grandmother lacked capacity to execute a 2012 Will, and further alleged that the 2012 Will was the product of undue influence.

Between 2003 and 2012, the decedent amended her will four times, the fourth being the will in question. The brothers petitioned the Court of Chancery to invalidate the 2012 Will so that the previous amended will of six months before would take its place. Not surprisingly, the decedent left significantly more of her estate to the two brothers in that previous will.

The trustee of the estate, the petitioner’s sister, moved to dismiss the petition on the grounds that it failed to state claim for which relief could be granted. The petition alleged that the decedent lacked capacity to execute the 2012 Will because she was 96 years old, had a tumor removed above her ear in 2009, and suffered from other “serious medical problems.” Master LeGrow held that, even taking those allegations as true, the petitioners failed a lack of capacity claim.

In dismissing the capacity challenge the Master first stated that “[a] person who makes a will must, at the time the document is executed, be capable of exercising thought, reflection, and judgment, and must know what she is doing and how she is disposing of her property.” (citing In re Estate of West, 522 A.2d 1256, 1263 (Del. 1987)). She further stated that “[t]he testator also must have sufficient memory and understanding to comprehend the nature and character of her act.” (citing Sloan v. Segal, 2010 WL 2169496 (Del. May 10, 2010); In re Estate of West, 522 A.2d at 1263). And that “in order to possess the requisite capacity, the Decedent must have known that she was disposing of her estate by will, and to whom.” (citing In re Langmeier, 466 A.2d 386, 402 (Del. Ch. 1983)).

The Master then concluded that the mere allegation that the testator is old, had surgery, and suffered from medical problems was not enough to withstand a motion to dismiss. The Master found that the allegations were not reasonable, especially because the previous will—the will that they sought to take the place of 2012 Will—was executed only six months before the 2012 Will, and two years after the surgery that the petitioners claimed effected the decedent’s capacity.

The Master held that the petitioners alleged no facts that would infer that the decedent was a susceptible testator. The Master explained that the mere allegation that she was old, had recent surgery, and suffered from various medical problems was not enough to adequately allege that the decedent was susceptible to undue influence.

Author(s)

Phillip Giordano
Associate
Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella, P.A.
William M. Kelleher, Director
Director
Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella, P.A.