Missouri appeals court ruled that while an inequitable distribution of assets among the decedent’s children illustrates an unfortunate breakdown in the relationships between members of her family, the final bequest would not be disturbed because the trial judge properly found that the decedent had sufficient mental capacity and there was no credible evidence of undue influence.
In this case, the decedent mother executed a will and revocable trust in 2000 and named all her children, except one, as beneficiaries of the trust. Later in 2000, some of the children filed a petition in Illinois to be appointed guardians of their mother. In 2001, the decedent amended her trust to omit these children from inheriting any of the real estate or personal property assets of the trust.
At trial, the disinherited children claimed that they became concerned about their mom’s ability to drive and handle her finances. In addition, a neurologist who reviewed medical records opined that the decedent suffered from dementia as early as 1999 and, therefore, was not mentally competent to execute her estate documents in 2000 or 2001.
Under Missouri law, an individual’s mental and physical condition is ‘highly material’ to the issue of undue influence because it would indicate whether the person creating the trust (“the settlor”) was susceptible to undue influence.
In contrast, the trial court also heard evidence that the decedent was alone when she signed trust documents; that the attorneys who drafted the trust and its amendment believed her to be mentally competent at the time she executed the documents; and that decedent’s guardian ad litem testified that the decedent was fully capable of cutting some of her children out of their inheritance merely for spite or vindictiveness, rather than on the basis of incompetence or undue influence.
Ultimately, the trial court ruled that the trust amendment was not the result of a lack of mental capacity or undue influence, and the Missouri Court of Appeals found there was substantial evidence to support that finding.
You can read a full copy of the opinion here.