In a recent case involving a challenge to an amendment to a revocable trust, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee upheld the trial court’s grant of a directed verdict to the defendants and against the two sons who had challenged the amendment. The case is significant because it demonstrates that basing a challenge to a will or trust exclusively on the argument that the deceased was of advanced age, and, therefore, must have had reduced mental capacity and increased dependence on others, will not carry the day (as it should not). Although the case was not technically a will contest, the principles and law applied were the same as those applied in will contest cases.
Based on the facts set forth in the opinion in the case, the sons who challenged the trust amendment on the grounds of undue influence and lack of mental capacity must have pretty much expected to prove both just by proving that their father was older and that one of their sisters lived with him. They had no medical proof that would support either that their father was lacking mental capacity, or that he was so physically infirm that he was susceptible to his live-in daughter establishing a dominant relationship over him.
Summary judgments and directed verdicts, both of which were granted by the trial court in this case, are pretty rare in will contest cases where undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity are at issue. That they are makes this case worth analyzing and understanding.
Here are the key facts of the case:
- Father had six children comprised of three sons and three daughters
- The opinion, remarkably, does not provide Father’s age, though it is clear he was elderly
- In 2008, Father executed a will and revocable trust
- Father appointed one of his daughters as his personal representative
- In 2010, Father executed an amendment to the trust
- Although the opinion does not state how Father’s assets were to be distributed under the 2010 amendment, it is clear from the opinion that, under that amendment, two sons were bequeathed less than what was bequeathed to some, or all, of the other siblings
- After Father died in 2011, the above two sons (the “Plaintiff Sons”) filed a lawsuit challenging the 2010 amendment on the grounds that Father was unduly influenced to make the amendment and lacked the testamentary capacity to understand the consequences of the amendment