Legal Memorandum: Fraud or Undue Influence in a Will

Issue: Under New York law, how does an objector to a will establish fraud or undue influence?

Area of Law: Estate Planning & Probate
Keywords: Will; Fraud or Undue Influence; Burden to prove
Jurisdiction: New York
Cited Cases: 738 N.Y.S.2d 100; 663 N.Y.S.2d 456
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 03/01/2004

Generally, the proponent of a will has the burden to establish a prima facie case that the will was the result of the testator’s free and voluntary act and not the result of undue influence or fraud.  See In re Estate of Minervini, 297 A.D.2d at 424, 745 N.Y.S.2d at 627; In re Estate of Dietrich, 271 A.D.2d at 894, 706 N.Y.S.2d at 764-65.

“To raise an issue of fact as to undue influence or fraud more proof is necessary than mere conclusory allegations and speculation.”  In re Young, 289 A.D.2d 725, 726, 738 N.Y.S.2d 100, 102 (3d Dep’t 2001) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).  The test for undue influence is that a will should not be invalidated for undue influence unless “the acts of the influencing party are shown to effectively make it her will and not the will of the decedent.”  In re Clapper, 279 A.D.2d at 730, 732, 718 N.Y.S.2d at 468, 470 (3d Dept. 2001).  “A mere showing of opportunity and motive to exercise undue influence is insufficient to present a triable issue of fact, without evidence that undue influence was actually wielded.” In re Coniglio, 242 A.D.2d 901, 902, 663 N.Y.S.2d 456, 457 (4th Dep’t 1997). 

“To establish fraud, it must be shown that the proponent [1] knowingly [2] made a false statement [3] that caused decedent to execute a will that disposed of his property in a manner different from the disposition he would have […]

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