In Re Estate of Ruparshek828N.Y.S.2d623 was decided by New York’s Third Department Appellate Division earlier this year. In modifying a decision of the Otsego County Surrogate’s Court, it once more stressed the heavy burden of proof needed to establish undue influence.

This action involved a situation where the decedent’s daughter had visited her mother for days at a time after the death her husband. The court ruled that the combination of these lengthy visits with her financial interest in the estate did not rise to the level that a will leaving the entire estate to the daughter was obtained through undue influence.In  this matter, the daughter’s conduct in moving her family into her mother’s residence and placing her mother’s money into joint accounts took place after the execution of the will in question.

Here the court stressed that there were two separate issues, each having a separate burden of proof. It was the responsibility of the petitioner to establish that the decedent possessed the requisite capacity to make a will.It was upon her to demonstrate that the decedent understood the consequences of making a will and knew the nature and extent of the property  being disposed of and the persons who were the natural objects of her bounty.

In Ruparshek, the respondent was able to establish that the decedent had intended that her money be split between the petitioner and her grandchildren and testified that the decedent would become forgetful at times. The failure of the attorney drafter to be able to offer a specific description of the decedent’s intended plans to distribute her assets gave rise to an issue of fact as to capacity, thereby requiring a trial on the merits.

The burden of proof as to the issue of undue influence, however, was upon the objectants. Inasmuch as the facts alleged by the objectants did not rise to the level of undue influence, no triable issue of fact was raised and the appellate court modified the lower court’s decision to dismiss these objections.