Matter of Coiro revolves around the issue of undue influence in the context of a will contest. The case is significant in the field of estate and trust law, as it provides a clear framework for determining whether undue influence has played a role in the creation or alteration of a will.
Under New York law undue influence refers to a situation where a person’s free will is overpowered by the influence of another. In the context of a will contest, undue influence occurs when a person uses their power or authority to manipulate the testator (the person creating the will) to change their testamentary disposition to benefit the influencer. To establish undue influence, the contestant must prove three elements: (1) the existence and exertion of influence, (2) the effective operation of such influence so as to subvert the mind of the testator, and (3) the execution of a will that would not have been made but for the influence.
Testator Dorothy Coiro passed away in 2012. Dorothy had two children, Nicholas and Nancy. Nicholas was the executor of his mother’s estate and the primary beneficiary of her will. Nancy contested the validity of the will, claiming that Nicholas had exerted undue influence over their mother to obtain a greater share of the estate.
In Matter of Coiro, the evidence presented by Nancy showed that Nicholas had a close relationship with their mother and had assumed a significant role in her life, including managing her finances and helping her with household tasks. Nancy argued that Nicholas had used this position of influence to coerce their mother into changing her will to benefit him.
The court held that Nancy had met her burden of proof and established the presence of undue influence in the creation of the will. The court found that Nicholas had exerted control over their mother’s life and had used his position of influence to pressure her into changing her estate plan to his benefit.
The court noted that the evidence presented by Nancy showed that Nicholas had engaged in a range of behaviors that are consistent with undue influence. These behaviors included controlling his mother’s finances, pressuring her to change her will, and isolating her from her friends and family. The court found that these actions, taken together, were sufficient to establish the presence of undue influence.
The court also noted that the will in question had several irregularities, which further supported the claim of undue influence. For example, the will was executed in a lawyer’s office, but the attorney who drafted the will was not present at the signing. Additionally, the will was not signed in the presence of two disinterested witnesses, as required by law.
The court concluded that the will was the result of undue influence and was therefore invalid. The court also ordered that the prior will, which had been executed several years earlier, be admitted to probate. The prior will provided for an equal distribution of the estate between Nicholas and Nancy.
The case of Matter of Coiro provides an important framework for establishing undue influence in the context of a will contest. The case highlights the importance of establishing the presence and exertion of influence, the effective operation of such influence, and the execution of a will that would not have been made but for the influence. The case also underscores the need for proper formalities in executing a will, such as the presence of disinterested witnesses, to avoid potential challenges to its validity.
Note that if there had not been a valid prior will, the court would have declared the decedent to be intestate and her estate would have been distributed according to New York’s rules of intestate succession. Assuming that Nicholas and Nancy were the decedent’s only children, the result would have been the same- Nicholas and Nancy would have received equal distribution of the estate.