The Law Firm of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, recently published the trial court results of a case involving a charge of Undue Influence brought by the two adult children of William Moriarty.
Mr. Moriarty was widowed in April 2016. William had been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and congestive heart failure following Doreen’s death. Eve, who had been married three times previously and had met William while Doreen was alive, began dating him within weeks after Doreen’s death.
Afterward, Cathy and Paula noticed a marked change in their relationship with their father, though they did not learn of his and Eve’s relationship until soon before they were married. Eve and William married about seven months after Doreen’s death, and neither Cathy nor Paula were invited to, or attended, the wedding.
From firing William’s caregiver to procuring a new will for him through her own lawyer, Eve also was named as joint owner of a new, large home purchase shortly after their marriage, as well as of a new $60,000 Lexus.
Relying on an expert witness, the court determined that William’s physical and psychological impairments made him vulnerable to undue influence.
The trial court was convinced that Eve exercised undue influence over William due to multiple facts presented at trial, including the dramatic shift in his estate plan only one month before his death and Eve’s involvement in procuring his will and surrendering his life insurance policy. The trial court was less than impressed with Eve’s demeanor in court, noting her “flat affect during emotional testimony,” which left the court “with no confidence that Eve married William because she loved him and with the conclusion that Eve planned to take all of William’s money all along.”
Ultimately, the trial court declared that the purported will was invalid due to William’s lack of capacity and Eve’s undue influence over him, and it ordered that William’s estate be distributed as if he had died intestate.
The court also ordered Eve to transfer title of bank accounts, the house and the car — all of which she otherwise would have received as a joint owner — to William’s estate.