Will Drafter’s Failures Don’t Help Undue Influencer’s Case

A New York trial court determines that an incapacitated woman was unduly influenced by her agent under a power of attorney, noting that the testimony of an attorney who drafted a will for the woman on behalf of the agent did not carry much weight because the attorney spent insufficient time with the woman and failed to determine her knowledge of her estate. Matter of Mitchell (N.Y. Sup. Ct., No. 100163/14, June 3, 2016).

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Mary Mitchell appointed Gary Shadoian as her attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney. During the time he was her agent, she wrote him checks valued at more than $120,000, which he used to buy things for himself. Mr. Shadoian contacted an attorney on Ms. Mitchell’s behalf to draft a will. The attorney had one conversation with Ms. Mitchell over the phone and met her once in person. The attorney allowed Mr. Shadoian to be present when Ms. Mitchell executed her will even though Mr. Shadoian was a beneficiary of the will.

After Ms. Mitchell was repeatedly hospitalized for neglect, the court appointed guardians for her. The guardians filed suit against Mr. Shadoian, arguing that he unduly influenced Ms. Mitchell. At the trial, the attorney who drafted the will for Ms. Mitchell testified on behalf of Ms. Shadoian that he didn’t know Ms. Mitchell was incapacitated, but admitted that he didn’t make inquiries about her knowledge of her estate.

The New York Supreme Court rules that Mr. Shadoian exercised undue influence over Ms. Mitchell. The court determines Mr. Shadoian’s testimony was not credible, and that the testimony of the attorney that prepared Ms. Mitchell’s will “was too threadbare to carry much weight.” The court notes that the attorney “failed to make even elementary inquiries as to the actual size of [Ms. Mitchell’s] estate, her medical condition, her social and familial history. Contrary to usual practice, he allowed an unrelated person, designated as beneficiary, to orchestrate the completion and execution of the will.”

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