J. Kelly Kennedy, Attorney/CPA, PLLC

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Attorney and CPA

Beneficiaries say cop unduly influenced Florida woman's will

When a person leaves behind a valid will, Florida courts stick as close as possible to the deceased person's wishes. But there are a number of requirements that go into making a valid will. First and foremost is the requirement that the person making the will, known as the testator, was competent to make a will at the time it was executed. This is requirement is called testamentary capacity.

To have testamentary capacity, a testator must be age 18 or over, must understand the extent and value of the property, the people for whom he or she is expected to provide, who the beneficiaries of the will are going to be, what a will is and how these elements relate to each other. There are many cases where interested parties have been able to have a will ruled invalid because the testator lacked testamentary capacity.

A related problem is undue influence. When a vulnerable testator is manipulated by another person into executing a will that doesn't represent the testator's true wishes, courts may rule that the will is the result of undue influence, and therefore unenforceable.

In a case currently before a Florida court, a number of parties are arguing that a wealthy woman's will is invalid because she lacked testamentary capacity and a police officer unduly influenced her at the time the will was executed.

The woman died at age 94 last December, leaving her home, some investments and a car to the police officer. The value of his inheritance under this will is estimated to be about $1.8 million. However, other family members argue that the police officer manipulated the woman, who was suffering from dementia, into revising her will to enrich him at the expense of her family members and previously named beneficiaries.

An earlier will left $25,000 to one of the woman's grandsons who is disabled but his bequest was left out of the later will. The earlier will also left a quarter of the woman's estate to two medical organizations, but the later, disputed will gave them only $25,000 each.

The police officer and his associates deny any wrongdoing.

Florida families who fear that their loved ones are being financially exploited should seek help as soon as possible. When families don't learn of the manipulation until after the person's death, they should get help understanding their legal options.

Source: Seacoast Online, "Five lawyers now disputing wealthy woman's estate," Elizabeth Dinan, June 13, 2013