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In re Will of Moses

Mississippi Supreme Court
227 So.2d 829 (1969)


Facts

After becoming a widow for the third time, Fannie Traylor Moses commenced a sexual relationship with her friend, Clarence Holland (proponent), an attorney 15 years younger than her. Moses’ relationship with Holland continued until her death. When Holland sought to probate Moses’ last will, which devised most of her estate to Holland, her closest surviving blood relative, an elder sister (contestant), challenged probate of the will claiming undue influence. Holland defended against the undue influence claim primarily on the ground that Moses had the “independent advice and counsel” of Dan Shell, the attorney who drafted her will. Shell did not know about, and did not inquire about, Moses’ relationship with Holland, with whom Shell had no prior connection. Nor did Shell have any connection to Moses other than drafting her will according to her wishes. Although evidence showed that Moses may have been an alcoholic at the time, Shell testified that Moses was not intoxicated, understood what she was doing and, prior to executing the will, had requested corrections to ensure one of her more valuable properties went to Holland. Other than inquiring as to Moses’ marital status, whether she had children, and the value of her properties and suggesting she describe her property more accurately, Shell did not otherwise advise or counsel Moses on her chosen estate distribution. Testimony also indicated that Moses was a good businesswoman who managed a commercial property, apartment buildings and a 480-acre farm until her death. Testimony portrayed her as independent and indicated that her lifestyle had estranged her from her sisters. Finding undue influence, the chancery court denied probate. Holland appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

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Holding and Reasoning (­Smith, J.)

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Dissent (Robertson, J.)

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