The surviving spouse of Glen Cambell is fighting with his children from a previous marriage over his $50 million dollar fortune. Per reports:
The will was written in September 2006, more than five years before he announced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. It stipulates that all three of his kids from his second marriage to Billie Jean Nunley, which ended in 1976, were not to benefit from his estate or any resulting trust.
(Campbell had five other children from other relationships who apparently will benefit from the Last Will and Trusts.) He only announced his Alzheimer’s condition in 2011 but could have been diagnosed with the disease at the time of the signing of the Last Will.
So how does a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s affect the execution of a Last Will in Alabama.
The law presumes that every person of legal age has sufficient mental capacity to make a valid will. A person may be feeble, weakminded or capricious and still have capacity to make a will if he is able to have a decided and communicate a desire as to the disposition of his property. However, the person signing the Last Will must have at the time of the signing memory of mind sufficient to recall and understand: his property, the persons he is leaving the property to, where he desires the property to go, and the nature and consequences of the business to be performed. “Simply stated, if the testator knows his estate and to whom he wishes to give his property and understands that he is executing a will, he has testamentary capacity. A person may execute a valid will, even if he or she is not competent to transact ordinary, everyday affairs.”Still v. BankTrust, 88 So. 3d 845, 852 (Ala. Civ. App. 2011)
Accordingly, a dementia diagnosis does not automatically invalidate a Last Will; however, the weakened condition may bolster undue influence claims. “To establish a prima facie case of undue influence, the contestant must show that a confidential relationship existed between a favored beneficiary and the testator; that the beneficiary’s influence was dominant and controlling in the relationship; and that there was undue activity on the part of the dominant party in procuring the execution of the will.” Ex Parte Helms, 873 So. 2d 1139, 1148 (Ala. June 13, 2003). That these three elements must be met in order to create a presumption of undue influence, and shift the burden to the proponents of a will to show a lack thereof, has been consistently held by Alabama courts for over a century. Wilson v. Wehunt, 631 So. 2d 991 (Ala. 1994)
In 2006, the Court addressed a case where the proponent of a will tried to argue that the contestants did not have “equal claim” to the testator’s bounty because the contestants had minimal contacts with their grandfather, the decedent, and had not been involved in his daily life, but had left him to the proponent’s care. Pirtle v. Tucker, 960 So. 2d 620 (Ala. 2006). The court, however, rejected this argument, holding that the contestants were blood relatives who would have inherited the estate under intestacy laws. Id. at 630. The decedent’s will devised the entire estate, not just one part, to the defendant, therefore the will favored the Defendant over the plaintiffs. Id. Moreover, the plaintiffs had presented testimony that the decedent wanted them to have his entire estate. Id. “Finally, although it is clear that Tucker helped Miler in the latter stages of Miller’s life, the evidence does not show that he helped Miller so much that ‘the testamentary disposition [of Miller’s entire estate to Tucker] is proper as a matter of law.” Id. citing Armstrong at 1314.
The next element to examine is that of domination by the favored beneficiary over the testator. Alabama courts have held, in fact, that domination in the relationship is key to undue influence. Furrow v. Helton, 13 So. 2d 350, 357 (Ala. 2008). In Helms, the proponents placed their names on CD’s and bank accounts held by the decedent, were her sole means of transportation, visited the home of the testator every day from the time she started taking
Lortab until the disputed will was written, and denied others access to the decedent. Helms, at 1145-1146. The Court wrote that this evidence “constitutes substantial evidence of dominance and control.” Id. at 1148.
The final element of undue influence is “undue activity in the procurement of the will”. In Helms, undue activity was found where the proponent suggested the lawyer who drafted the will, one of the proponents drove the decedent to the office to execute the will and the proponents lied about having any knowledge of the will was enough to establish undue activity, when coupled with the evidence for other elements. Helms, at 1148. Merely driving the decedent to the attorney’s office to execute the will was not, however, sufficient when not coupled with additional evidence. Furrow, at 358.
Look for Campbell’s disinherited heirs claim the new wife exercised undue influence over a man in a weakened condition.