Undue Influence and Will Contests

We've reviewed several cases which show the value of proper estate planning through the lens of post-death lawsuits. This week's case is another example. However, the facts can be read to either support the argument that the son tampered with his dad's will or that the dad truly wanted to leave an unbalanced estate to his children. In any event, the litigation was costly to the entire family.
Without getting into the lengthy, but interesting, fact pattern, the decedent, Doyle I. Dukes, had seven children from two marriages. At one point, Doyle was a successful jewelry store and rental unit owner despite only finishing fourth grade. As he aged, there was conflicting evidence that he suffered from dementia and may have been susceptible to undue influence. Most of his life, Mr. Dukes treated his children equally, but in his later years he seemingly relied more on one son, Doyle E. Dukes, than other children.
Prior to passing away in 2009, Mr. Dukes executed a will in 2007. The 2007 will left $1,000 to each of his children, but the balance of the estate passed to his one son, Doyle E. Dukes. Several of the other children challenged the will primarily arguing that it was the result of the son's undue influence. Both the trial court and the court of appeals agreed, and they invalidated the will and found that the estate passed equally to all the children.
The evidence can be presented in ways to either show that the son's actions were selfish or that the decedent truly wanted to effectively disinherit his remaining children. In the end, however, the court found that it was the son's motives that drove the drafting of the 2007 will, despite the fact that the decedent hired an attorney to draft it. The moral of this story, if you're planning on making alternative or unbalanced estate planning decisions, it's important to document those choices in conjunction with an attorney who understands the family dynamics and possible implications of such choices. Additionally, if you're an heir facing an uneven distribution with suspicion of wrongdoing by other heirs, your rights aren't necessarily foreclosed, and competent counsel can help guide you toward understanding those rights and resolving such disputes.
In re: The Estate of Doyle I. Dukes, No. E2014-01966-COA-R3-CV, (Tenn. Sept. 11, 2015).