practice areas

When litigating a Will or Trust dispute, we often run up against a lack of witnesses as to undue influence being committed on an elder who dies after doing some strange things with his or her estate. Often no witness saw anyone committing undue influence or any other elder abuse on the deceased elder. Even close family members don’t know. At least with elder women many go to a certain hairdresser for life. Come hell or high water, they get to the hairdresser no matter what. Whether they have to come in using a walker or in a wheelchair they get there. They may be very sick, almost dead, but they make it to the hairdresser. They often have a regular appointment and that’s one thing they will do, get there. When I consult with an elder’s hairdresser, I usually get a wealth of information about that elder, their activities, their friends, persons that may or may not have abused them, etc. In one case we had an elder lady who was an alcoholic who changed her Will leaving everything she had which was a lot to her new younger husband. She had been an alcoholic for some years but the doctors had told her to dry up the drinking or die and for quite some time she did successfully do so. She then died unexpectedly and the family suspected that the husband had been able to get her to start drinking again which lead to her demise. The lady’s hairdresser was located across the street from the apartment house that the elder lady owned and lived in the penthouse with her husband. As indicated, the doctors told her that if she didn’t quit her drinking, she would die and as indicated, she was making a success of quitting. We decided to question the hairdresser about the elder, her habits, and so forth. The hairdresser indicated that the elder had been her client for many years and would always come in every other Wednesday without an appointment at 2:00 p.m. for her regular appointment. The hairdresser indicated in the past few months she was wheeled in in her wheelchair by her husband but as the hairdresser indicated, she was definitely “off the wagon” and in an alcoholic state. The hairdresser indicated that the elder told her that she had tried to quit but her husband kept giving her vodka and she couldn’t resist. Our private eye checked the penthouse’s garbage over a period of a month or so and regularly every day there would appear empty half gallon bottles of vodka which was the elder’s drink of choice. The husband did not drink. Shortly after her last visit with her hairdresser she died. We checked with the elder’s doctor and he indicated that if she in fact had continued drinking after he had met with her several months before and cautioned her against drinking, that she would die and he was very definite in his opinion that being continually fed the vodka by her husband was the thing that tipped her off balance and caused her death. She was only 70 years old but the years of drinking had taken its toll. We then filed a petition to cancel out the will in favor of the husband on the basis of what we alleged to be undue influence and also the fact that he had supplied her with the alcohol that caused her death which under the code (Prob. Code §250(a)) disallowed him from inheriting. You cause someone’s death you don’t inherit. The end result was that he renounced taking under her Will allowing our clients to take their rightful properties as the alternate beneficiaries.