Brief Fact Summary. Mary Sheldon Lyon left her estate to defendant, Father Divine, a leader of a religious group. Plaintiffs, the testator’s first cousins sought to have a constructive trust imposed on the defendant’s gift on grounds that the defendant defrauded and unduly influenced Lyon. The plaintiffs claim that Lyon expressed a desire on several occasions to include them as beneficiaries in her will, but the defendants killed the her before the will could be executed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. When an heir or devisee under a will prevents the testator from making a will or deed in favor of another, by fraud, duress, or undue influence, such heir or devisee will be deemed a trustee over the gift in favor of the intended beneficiary.
Issue. Whether a beneficiary may be liable for undue influence and fraud where he prevents a testator from executing a will that would give a gift to another by making false representations, using physical force, and murdering the testator.
Held. Yes. A beneficiary is liable for undue influence and fraud where he makes misrepresentations, uses force, and murders a testator to prevent him from signing a will that names another person as a beneficiary. In such a case, the beneficiary holds the property in constructive trust for the intended beneficiaries. Anything short of an equitable remedy would be unjust.
Discussion. The validity of a will rests upon testamentary intent and meeting the proper staturory requirements. When the evidence proves an heir through misrepresentations and physical force prevents a testator from carrying his testamentary desires, the court will impose a constructive trust to carry out equity. Though the court will enforce the will, valid on its face, it will not allow an heir to benefit from such wrongful conduct.