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Any influence brought to bear upon a person consenting to a disposal of property, which, having regard to the age and capacity of the party, the nature of the transaction, and all the circumstances of the case, appears to have been such as to preclude the exercise of free and deliberate judgment, is considered by courts of equity to be undue influence, and is a ground for setting aside the act procured by its employment.
Plaintiff Adolph Bucchi remain in Mrs. Judd's (decedent herein) employ as long as she lived. He worked for decedent as a gardener, chauffeur and handyman. The decedent told plaintiff that she left him $ 1000 in her will, and on another will, she bequeathed to him $ 3000 and her automobile. She made third will devising to plaintiff the home in which she lived and bequeathed to him $ 5000 and her automobile. Each of the three wills she had executed up to this time provided for only a small legacy to her niece, defendant Mrs. Pyle. The latter came to plaintiff at the latter’s request, upon her arrival, she took over the management of decedent’s household, and discharged the plaintiff. Three weeks after her arrival, Mrs. Pyle received from Mrs. Judd a deed of the house. This conveyance was made in consideration of the former’s written agreement to care for the latter and act as her companion for the rest of her life. The decedent revoked the power of attorney held by the bank, and the niece told the bank's representative that she would handle her aunt's finances. The decedent destroyed her will and at the same time executed a memorandum by which she attempted to give all of her personal property to her niece. At times, the decedent was mentally confused, forgetful, suffering from infirmities of age and readily susceptible to suggestion. She died intestate, the named defendant Roger F. Gleason was the administrator on her estate. Plaintiff filed an action to recover for services performed for the decedent under an agreement. The trial court, upon these facts, concluded that there was no basis for a finding that the decedent agreed to compensate plaintiff by her will and that the compensation the plaintiff had received while he was in her employ was not less than his services were reasonably worth. The trial court further concluded that the personalty that the niece received from the decedent was acquired through undue influence.
Did the trial court err in finding that the personalty received by the defendant niece was acquired through undue influence?
The court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. The court found that the trial court's determination of undue influence was supported by evidence that the decedent was of an advanced age and was frequently forgetful and confused, that the niece received almost all of the decedent's assets within weeks of her arrival to manage the decedent's household, that the niece kept the decedent in virtual isolation from friends and former confidants, and that the niece had written letters that described her activities in language of a most damaging nature. Further, the court ruled that the trial court properly rejected plaintiff’s claim because if there was an agreement, he could recover only the reasonable value of his services for its breach and the decedent had already paid him for these services.