Citation. Barnes v. Marshall, 467 S.W.2d 70
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Brief Fact Summary.
Testator made a will bequeathing a large portion of his estate to several charities, churches and fraternal organizations. Plaintiff, testator’s daughter, contested the will on grounds that testator was not of sound mind at the time of execution.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Evidence showing occurrences involving the testator year prior to the execution of a will can be admissible to show the testator was not of sound mind at the time of execution if such occurrences have a direct bearing on the testator’s condition at the time of execution.
Testator made a will with the remainder of the estate going to a trust with payments to be made to the Defendants; various individuals, charities, churches, and fraternal organizations. Plaintiff, the testator’s daughter, was to receive five dollars per year. The estate was appraised at over half a million dollars. Plaintiff alleged that the testator was not of sound mind and did not have the mental capacity to make a will. After testimony from several witnesses that testified that the testator was of unsound mind and suffering from manic-depressive psychosis, the trial court found for the Plaintiff. Defendant appeals the ruling on several points.
Whether the evidenced presented showed that the testator was of sound mind on the day he executed his will?
Whether the trial court erred in refusing certain questions of the Defendants to be asked of the jurors on voir dire?
Whether the trial court erred in admitting evidence of occurrences years prior to the execution of the will because it was too remote to have any probative value?
Whether the trial court erred in permitting lay witnesses to express an opinion that the testator was of unsound mind?
Whether the trial court erred in refusing to permit a defense witness to express an opinion that testator was of sound mind?
Whether the trial court erred in refusing to give jury instructions offered by the Defendant?
Yes. Affirmed. The evidence showed that the testator’s views on government, religion, morals, and finances went beyond peculiarities and eccentricities and a reasonable jury could find him of unsound mind.
No. Affirmed. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in rulings relating to the voir dire examination as these rulings will not be disturbed unless there is a clear indication of abuse of discretion.
No. Affirmed. Evidence of a testator’s mental condition prior to the execution of the will is admissible if it tends to show his condition at the time of the execution. Here the evidence was that the testator suffered from an incurable mental disease which has a direct bearing on the testator’s mental condition at the time of the execution of the will.
No. Affirmed. The refusal to permit this witness to testify was harmless error because ten other lay witnesses were allowed to testify to the same opinion.
No. Affirmed. The proposed instructions were cautionary instructions and these are usually within the discretion of the trial court at to whether or not to include.
The Court affirms the trial court’s judgment finding that a jury could have reasonably found the testator to be of unsound mind based on the testimony presented to it. The Court notes that in regard to questioning during voir dire, counsel has no right on voir dire to have the prospective juror pledge or speculate what their action will be in certain situations that may arise later during trial.