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Dad’s Memo Prevents Daughters From Getting Disinherited by Step-Mom

Clarkston Legal May 25, 2014

A secret memorandum that a concerned father passed to his daughters some 13-years prior to his death may have saved their sizable inheritance. The memo was a key piece of evidence in resolving a trust dispute where the step-mother had exercised undue influence to claim her wealthy husband’s entire estate, worth an estimated $5 million.

The identities of the parties to the case were kept private by the Michigan Lawyers Weekly, a newspaper that this Blog subscribes to in order to keep-up with probate legal trends and changes in the probate laws. Some of the facts, however, are known, and they are instructive in combating this type of overreaching greed.

Apparently, the decedent knew what type of woman he married, taking steps to warn his two daughters that their step-mother may try to get him to sign away his estate from them to her when he was in a physically weakened state. And this is just what the step-mother set out to do; we’ve seen this movie before here at this probate blog.

In this case, evidence surfaced in the probate court that step-mom exerted undue influence to re-write the decedent’s trust such that half of his estate was transferred into her trust, with the decedent’s daughters being only contingent beneficiaries on the other half; the step-mom was in control of the entire estate and could leave the decedent’s daughters with nothing.

Our friend, probate attorney Alan May, uncovered a paper-trail of evidence on behalf of the decedent’s daughters that demonstrated step-mom knew her husband, “could be pressured to sign things.” The paper-trail also yielded documentation between step-mom and her lawyers, plotting to defend against the inevitable “undue influence” challenge.

Perhaps the most significant and compelling evidence produced by Mr. May was a manipulated version of a keep estate planning document that was changed after the fact [i.e. after its execution] that modified significant terms in step-mother’s favor. When the document was compared to the original, the special pagination that probate lawyers use was not present, although it was on the original. Busted…

The result of Mr. May’s fine effort was a settlement that put $2.6 million into the daughter’s coffers; an amount equal to able one-half of the decedent’s estate.

If you are concerned that a loved one or family member may have fallen victim to undue influence, it is best to seek the advice of a probate attorney as soon as possible. That way, preventative steps can be deployed or, as in this case, evidence can be brought to bear to expose the malfeasor, preventing unjust enrichment and producing a more favorable and just outcome.

A decedent’s wishes must be honored, and another family member’s greed should not affect the outcome of an estate plan.