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Changing Family Dynamics

by | Sep 12, 2018 | Will

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It’s a fact of life that family members will squabble. Shifting family relationships can happen faster than the rate people update their legal transactions and wills, leading to even more tension in a family. People often try to limit this possibility by making detailed documents, but this may not stop impending lawsuits and disagreements. One family member may believe that another drafted her will because of pressure from another member. This is what happened in the recent  case of In the Matter of Estate of Guglielmelli.

In Guglielmelli, a father passed away leaving his widow and two daughters. At the time of his death, the couple’s daughter Donna had moved back in with her parents, following a divorce. She handled all her mother’s finances under a power of attorney after the father’s death and also served as the executor of her father’s estate. 

At some point in 2008, the mother and Donna became estranged from their other daughter and sister, respectively, Denise. The mother and Donna bought a home together as joint tenants to live in. In 2009, Denise and the mother reconciled, and the mother made a new will which left the mother’s ownership percentage in the home she shared with Donna to Donna, but divided the remainder of her estate between the two sisters. 

The mother fell ill in 2014, causing Donna to put her in an assisted living facility because she could no longer care for herself. Denise later removed the mother from the facility without telling her sister. Denise and the mother then went to a lawyer to revoke Donna’s power of attorney in favor of Denise and to request that Donna produce a detailed accounting of thefather’s estate. Donna refused and Denise and the mother filed suit claiming that Donna had exerted undue influence over the mother in drafting the will.

The trial judge found that there was a lack of evidence to support the mother and Denise’s accusations; there was no proof provided that showed any undue influence and that any deficiency in accounting could be squared away by looking at specific vouchers, invoices, and other documents. The trial judge also awarded a portion of the legal fees Donna incurred, but the Appellate Court later reversed, finding that there were no grounds to do that. It otherwise upheld the lower court decision. 

The nature of familial relationships can change very quickly over the span of a few years. If the rifts between members effect what someone may want to do with their estate, it is important to properly say that in their testamentary documents.

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