In re Estate of Sharis
Appeals Court of Massachusetts
990 N.E.2d 98 (2013)
After separating from his wife, Richard Spinelli (defendant) moved in with his elderly grandmother, Alice Sharis, and her husband. During this time, Spinelli gained nearly complete control of Alice’s checking account. Alice also signed a durable power of attorney, prepared by Spinelli, that gave Spinelli broad powers. Spinelli later contacted an attorney and requested that he draft a will for Alice. The attorney did not meet with Alice—he had a brief phone call with Alice, and then assigned the actual drafting of the will to his associate. The associate communicated only with Spinelli, not Alice. No attorney reviewed the terms of the will in person with Alice. Spinelli took Alice to the nursing home where her husband was a patient. Alice executed the will there, with nursing home staff as witnesses. Spinelli was not present in the room at the time of execution. The employees who witnessed the will did not observe any behavior that caused them to question whether Alice executed the will out of her own free will. The will provided that, should Alice’s husband predecease her, Alice’s house and all of the assets and property within the house would go to Spinelli. The will also held that all of Alice’s stock and securities were to go to Spinelli. Alice’s husband died shortly afterward, and Alice died a year later. Before Alice’s death, nobody else in Alice’s family was aware that she had executed a will. The trial judge found that Alice did not have an especially close relationship with Spinelli; Alice actually questioned why Spinelli needed to live with her and why he had stayed so long. One of Alice’s daughters (plaintiff) brought suit, arguing that the will was invalid due to undue influence. The trial judge agreed. Spinelli appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Sullivan, J.)
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