In a number of jurisdictions, there may be a presumption or inference of undue influence when a testator gives all or part of his or her estate to a person who is not the “natural object of the decedent’s bounty.”
In other words, a son or daughter is usually considered the natural object of a testator’s bounty so that the testator can give all of his or her estate to one child to the exclusion of the others without creating a presumption of undue influence on that basis alone. Conversely, if a testator gives all of his or her estate to a friend or ‘stranger’ to the exclusion of his or her children, then that friend is usually not the natural object of the testator’s bounty and that may create a presumption of undue influence.
With that background, that’s why it is unusual that a trial court in Massachusetts recently determined that a testator’s friend and not the testator’s adopted daughter was the natural object of the testator’s bounty. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts affirmed this part of the trial court’s decision in Purcell v. Landers, but reversed the trial court on failing to require trial testimony of the witnesses who attested to the will.
So, how does a friend become the natural object of a testator’s bounty while a daughter loses that status? Threaten to set the testator’s house on fire with him in it. (more…)