Will Contest Reversed in Jefferson County, Alabama

It is not uncommon for relatives to fight over a loved one’s last wishes in a will dispute. One argument that may be made against someone inheriting is undue influence. Undue influence involves that person taking advantage of the loved one to gain control through the will.

Recently, in Jefferson County, in McGimsey v. Gray, the Alabama Supreme Court addressed whether there had been enough evidence of undue influence at trial. Margaret Pitts was the maternal aunt of four nieces. She was also married to Thomas Pitts until her death in 2004. After her death, Lynda Gray, Thomas Pitts’ only living heir moved to Alabama in 2007 to live with Pitts. In 2010, Pitts’ health eventually deteriorated to the point of needing hospice services at home. Hospice services also gave Pitts the name of an attorney, Calvin Howard, who helped Pitts modify his will. Pitts left the entirety of his estate to Gray. Pitts died in August 2012.

Gray submitted this will to the probate court. In December 2012, the nieces initiated a will contest, arguing that Gray had exercised undue influence over Pitts. In March 2017 (after many delays in the case), Gray moved for summary judgment, which the court granted. The trial court granted Gray $8,393 for litigation expenses and court costs. The nieces appealed and Gray cross-appealed.

On appeal, the Supreme Court looked at the nieces’ undue influence claim. To successfully present an undue influence claim, a party must show: (1) that a confidential relationship existed between a favored beneficiary and the testator; (2) that the influence of or for that beneficiary was dominant and controlling in that relationship; and (3) that there was undue activity on the part of the dominant party in procuring the execution of the will.

The Court found that nieces easily proved the first two factors because Gray lived with Pitts and their close familial bond. The main question for the Court was whether Gray exercised undue influence. Because there was testimony that Gray was involved in Pitts’ estate planning, that she maintained Pitts’ legal papers, and that she was present for several of the meetings with Pitts’ attorney, there was sufficient evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to undue influence. The Court reversed the summary judgment and also reversed the order for the nieces to reimburse Gray $8,393.

There are three major components for undue influence. There has to be a confidential relationship, the person accused of undue influence must be using that relationship to exercise control, and finally that control has to have resulted in something “undue” in the will. This is the key to winning a will contest.

Ingram Law LLC has successfully won several will contest in Alabama. Will contest are tough cases to prove but can be won.

If you need help with a will contest, contact INGRAM LAW LLC at (205) 236-3997 for help with your case.

Categories: