Attorneys Adam Anderson and Ana Zampogna of Anderson & Labovitz, LLC recently prevailed in a trial concerning a will contest. 

In a lawsuit filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, A&L’s client, one of three daughters of the decedent, found herself in a fierce battle with her two sisters over her inheritance from her mother. The three sisters’ mother  passed away, leaving a will appointing A&L’s client as the executrix of the estate and sole beneficiary of all her assets, effectively disinheriting her other two daughters. 

The lawsuit filed by the two disinherited daughters claimed that the third daughter schemed to divest the mother’s assets through undue influence, and sought to invalidate the estate plan on those grounds. 

A party claiming undue influence must establish that (1) the person suffered a weakened intellect at the time the estate planning documents were executed, (2) there was a confidential relationship, and (3)  the person in the confidential relationship received a substantial benefit under the challenged estate planning documents. In re Bosley, 26 A.3d 1104, 1107-08 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2011). All three elements are required.

Throughout the multi-day trial, Attorneys Anderson and Zampogna called a litany of witnesses to the stand who all testified they knew the decedent extremely well through social events, thereby mitigating the “confidential relationship” element. These witnesses, including the estate planning attorney, also testified that the decedent intended for her daughter to be the sole beneficiary to thank her for the care and companionship she provided, that, even though she was disinheriting two daughters, she still loved them all; and further, that she understood such action could result in a will contest.  Finally, two physicians testified that the decedent knew exactly what she was doing when preparing her estate planning and that she was capable of making such decisions.  This compilation of testimony extinguished the required “weakened intellect” element.  

After weeks of consideration, the Court ruled that the witness testimony elicited by Attorneys Anderson and Zampogna overpowered the disinherited sisters’ claims and negated all arguments.  As a result, the two sisters failed to meet their burden of proof to demonstrate the client exerted undue influence over the mother, and Anderson & Labovitz prevailed in the trial for their client in this case challenging a decedent’s will.

In this matter, Attorneys Adam Anderson and Ana Zampogna were able to convey the true intentions of their client’s mother; there was no undue influence.  However, in other cases, financial elder abuse is a very real problem in Pennsylvania.  According to two publications by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, Financial Exploitation of Older Adults and Financial Exploitation of  Older Adults: A Guide for Civil Legal Aid Attorneys in Pennsylvania, an estimated 1 in 10 older adults have been the victim of financial exploitation; and, in fiscal year 2018 – 2019, there were 36,101 cases.  Further, studies offered in these publications show that less than 10% of such abuse is actually reported. 

The impact of undue influence on people’s lives can be profound.  As a result, it is extremely important to ensure you and your loved ones have proper estate planning in place.

If you find yourself concerned about undue influence and financial elder abuse, or, if you would like to ensure proper estate planning is put in place, call us at 412-209-3200 or email or to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.