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Puckett v. Krida

    Brief Fact Summary. Laverne Krida and Mattie Ruth Reeves, defendants, were the sole beneficiaries in Nancy Porch Hooper’s will. The defendants were employed to provide care around the clock care for the Hooper. The trial court set aside a deed and a will on grounds of fraud and undue influence finding that the defendants made misrepresentation to Hooper and controlled her access to legal and financial professionals.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A presumption of undue influence and fraud is raised where the testator is in a confidential relationship with individuals who make false statements on which the testator relies when creating his will.

    Facts. The defendants were hired as nurses to provide around the clock care for the testator. After their employment, the nurses persuaded the testator that her family wanted to put her in a nursing home and were misappropriating her funds. The defendants were aware when they began work that the testator’s biggest fear was going to a nursing home. They separated the testator from all of her family, friends, and former professional contacts. At different times, the defendants made false statements to the testator and concealed facts from her. The defendants listened to Hooper’s phone conversations and told her that her niece was wasting or misappropriating funds and then reimbursing herself for renting fancy cars and airline expenses. The testator entrusted her niece Jean Law to handle her financial affairs. The evidence at trial showed that Law managed her affairs properly, made every effort to keep the testator out of a nursing home, and never reimbursed herself for any of
    the expenses. The trial court also found that the niece kept meticulous records. The defendants however, had irregular dealings with the testator’s money.
    The defendants isolated the testator and controlled access to her. In regards to the testator’s professional and business relationships, the defendants (1) made new professional relationships for the testator and eliminated all former associations, (2) made serious decisions about the testators real property to avoid contact with her previous realtor, and (3) replaced her long time tenant with one of their family members. Furthermore, the defendant made the testator’s neighbors feel unwelcome and threatened the family with a lawsuit.

    Issue. Whether a presumption of fraud and undue influence is raised where the testator is in a confidential relationship with people who involuntarily isolate the testator and make misrepresentations on which the testator relied in making her will?

    Held. Yes. There is sufficient evidence here to support a finding of fraud and undue influence because the defendants, standing to benefit from the will, had exclusive access to the testator and control over her physical person. Furthermore, the defendants were in a confidential relationship with the testator because they were employed as nurses to provide the testator with around the clock care and one of them was her attorney-n-fact. These facts together with evidence showing the defendants told false statements which they were aware would cause the testator to exclude her family from the will.

    Discussion. A court will hold that there is sufficient evidence to support a finding of fraud and undue influence where the defendants controlled the testator’s physical person and told her lies which they knew would cause her to exclude certain persons from her will.


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