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Objectant failed to present concrete evidence beyond conclusory allegations of undue influence. In re Eastman, 880 N.Y.S.2d 157 (N.Y. App. Div. 2009)


In re Eastman involves the issue of undue influence. Undue influence refers to the exertion of improper or coercive pressure on the testator (the person making the will), influencing them to make decisions that go against their own free will and desires. It involves a level of manipulation that overcomes the testator’s independent judgment, leading to a will that reflects the influencer’s wishes rather than the true intentions of the testator.

Undue influence can manifest in various ways, such as isolating the testator from family and friends, exploiting a position of trust or confidence, or using tactics that instill fear or dependency. For example, a caregiver, close friend, or family member might attempt to unduly influence a vulnerable testator by controlling access to them, limiting communication with others, or even making threats. Financial dependence, declining health, or emotional vulnerability of the testator may increase susceptibility to such influence.

To prove undue influence in the context of a will contest, the objectant typically needs to demonstrate that the influencer’s actions rose to the level of moral coercion, destroying the testator’s free agency. This may involve presenting evidence of manipulation, isolation, or other tactics that compromised the testator’s ability to make independent decisions regarding the distribution of their assets.

In re Eastman centers on the contested last will and testament of Laura Delano Eastman, dated January 15, 2004, and a subsequent codicil dated October 22, 2004. The objectant challenges the probate, asserting that the decedent’s friend, Marguerite Lewis, exercised undue influence and perpetrated fraud, leading to an unfavorable disposition of the estate relative to the objectant’s sister.

Background Facts

Laura Delano Eastman, the decedent, passed away, triggering a probate battle over her contested will and codicil. The objectant, a beneficiary under the will, contends that Marguerite Lewis unduly influenced the decedent by tarnishing the objectant’s image and intentionally misinforming the decedent about another beneficiary’s well-being. These alleged actions, according to the objectant, led to an inequitable distribution of the estate in favor of her sister, Judith Adams.


Did the alleged undue influence and fraud significantly impacted the decedent’s free will and independent decision-making regarding the distribution of her assets?


The Surrogate’s Court, in its decree, affirmed the probate of the contested will and codicil, dismissing the objections raised by the objectant. The court held that the petitioners demonstrated the proper execution of the will, the decedent’s testamentary capacity, and the absence of undue influence or fraud. Consequently, the court ruled in favor of admitting the will and codicil to probate.


New York law emphasizes that influences arising from familial or other intimate personal relationships are valid considerations in estate disposition. However, to establish undue influence, the objectant must show that the influence amounted to a form of moral coercion, restraining independent action and destroying free agency. The burden of proof lies with the party challenging the will, requiring clear and convincing evidence of undue influence.

In this case, the objectant failed to present concrete evidence beyond conclusory allegations and speculation that Marguerite Lewis exercised undue influence or committed fraud. The court noted the absence of any proof that fraudulent statements were made to the decedent or that Lewis knowingly induced the decedent to change her will. Without a clear showing of undue influence or fraud, mere opportunities and motives are insufficient to challenge the testator’s intent as reflected in the will.


The legal saga surrounding Laura Delano Eastman’s estate underscores the importance of substantiated claims in probate proceedings. In dismissing objections based on fraud and undue influence, the Surrogate’s Court reaffirmed the necessity of concrete evidence to challenge the testamentary process. This case serves as a reminder that, in the absence of demonstrated coercion or fraudulent inducement, the intentions outlined in a will are likely to prevail, upholding the autonomy of the testator’s decisions.

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