In Blinn v. Carlman, 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 3881 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015), the Fourth DCA held a will invalid due to undue influence of Richard Blinn’s (“Decedent”) fourth wife (“Wife”). Undue influence is based on the theory that the “testator is induced by various means, to execute an instrument which, although his, in outward form, is in reality not his will, but the will of another person which is substituted for that of testator.” Blinn at 2 (citing In re Winslow’s Estate, 147 So. 2d 613, 617 (Fla. 2d DCA 1962)).
In the subject case, Wife became the fourth wife of Decedent in August 2007 at which point Decedent was eighty-two. Decedent’s mental health began deteriorating noted beginning in 2005 and he suffered from serious physical infirmities beginning in 2005 and continuing until his death in 2012.. In a 2006 will executed eight months after he met his Wife, Decedent devised his entire estate to his daughter, “Patty”, with his granddaughter as the alternate beneficiary. This will was consistent with an earlier will which provided for Decedent’s family. As Decedent’s mental health deteriorated, he engaged in inappropriate behaviors, expressed paranoid beliefs, and made imprudent financial decisions which caused a decline in his yacht brokerage business. In 2007, he believed he was winning significant sums from scam lotteries in foreign countries, but he never received any money from same. In 2011, the Decedent was declared incapacitated and Patty was appointed as his plenary guardian. In 2008, the Decedent executed a will which devised his entire estate to his Wife, with an existing charity created by the Decedent as the alternate beneficiary. The charity was dissolved a few months after the creation of the will.
The trial court noted that circumstances surrounding the creation of the 2008 will were suspicious. A lawyer and friend of Decedent referred him to the drafting lawyer and testified that he did not discuss the contents of the new will with the Decedent or his Wife, and he did not give the drafting lawyer instructions for its preparation. In 2007, the Wife loaned money to the referring attorney which was never repaid. The drafting lawyer said he too had no personal interaction with the parties (Decedent and Wife) prior to their appearance at his office on April 2, 2008 to sign their new wills. He testified that it was the referring lawyer who gave him instructions for the preparation of the Decedent’s will. He sent a copy of the Decedent’s will to the referring lawyer along with an e-mail stating that the will had been prepared without talking or giving estate planning advice. The drafting lawyer acknowledged that he was uncomfortable with the circumstances surrounding its preparation. The Wife claimed that she first learned of the appointment with the drafting lawyer on the morning of April 2, 2015; however, the drafting lawyer obtained a copy of her earlier will and trust prior to the appointment.
Before and during the marriage, the Wife distanced the Decedent from his two children and their families whom Decedent had been close with prior to his marriage to his fourth wife. None of Decedent’s family or friends were invited to the August 3, 2007 wedding. If Decedent’s son called and the Wife answered the phone, she would just hang up. A message from the Wife was presented to the trial court where the Wife dialed a former employee of Decedent and forgot to hang up before she was heard screaming at Decedent that Patty, with whom Decedent had worked, was still running the company and was stealing from him. Although the Wife claimed that it was the Decedent’s belief that Patty was stealing from him, it is clear that it was Wife who “pushed this idea” without any evidence of Patty’s wrongdoing. Prior to the marriage, Patty took care of her father’s personal finances and helped him pay his bills. After the 2007 marriage, the Wife paid all the bills and wrote all the checks.
In May 2008, the Wife sent the drafting lawyer two “doctor letters” which were written in July 2007 stating that both she and her husband were of sound mind. The Wife wanted the letters to be attached to both her will and Decedent’s. The drafting lawyer did not request these letters and recognized that since they had been written so long before the execution of the 2008 wills they had no probative value. Also in 2008, the Wife wrote a letter in her own handwriting to Decedent’s life insurance company requesting that the beneficiary on his policy be changed from Patty to herself. She also sent similar letters to the insurance company in 2010 and 2011 after Decedent was hospitalized and diagnosed with severe dementia. At the time of this hospitalization, she contacted the drafting lawyer’s law firm to send estate planning documents for the Decedent and a durable power of attorney in favor of herself. She said she would have the documents signed, witnessed, and notarized. The law firm complied with the Wife’s request.
The trial judge found that if the Wife were “so bold as to openly display such influence over [the decedent],” then the court could “reasonably infer that similar or greater influence was occurring in the dark during their marriage.” The Wife appealed the final judgment which invalidated the April 2, 2008 will based on undue influence by the Wife, finding it was supported by substantial competent evidence.
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