Court Rejects Undue Influence And Lack Of Capacity Claim Citing Long-Standing Familial Schism

The Appellate Division affirmed summary judgment against a party seeking to invalidate a will based primarily on incapacity. The challenger was the decedent’s brother, Frederick Jelin.

The decedent initially executed a will with the help of an attorney. The will included specific instructions regarding charitable and other specific bequests she wished to make to a personal aide and to family members. However, she excluded Frederick.

Over the next four years, the attorney prepared several draft wills with the decedent, each of which excluded Frederick. Ultimately, the decedent executed two wills. The second will included Frederick’s children but still excluded Frederick.

Following the decedent’s death, Frederick filed a complaint challenging her will. He argued that the decedent had Turner syndrome, possessed a low IQ, and, due to a series of strokes, lacked testamentary capacity and was unduly influenced by her siblings.

The trial court granted respondents summary judgment and dismissed Frederick’s complaint, finding that the evidence demonstrated that the decedent had the capacity to understand the nature of her property and its disposition, and finding no medical proof that the decedent lacked capacity or had deficient language capabilities. The trial court also found no evidence of undue influence.

The trial court also noted that the decedent appeared to have excluded Frederick from her will due to a long-standing schism between Frederick and the rest of the family.

On appeal, the court affirmed for the reasons expressed by the trial court.