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To find sufficient evidence to support a district court's invalidation of a will because of undue influence, the appellate court must be able to conclude that a reasonable fact finder could have found clear and convincing evidence of undue influence. Clear and convincing evidence is evidence that would instantly tilt the scales in the affirmative when weighed against the evidence in opposition. In determining sufficiency, the appellate court keeps in mind that the duty to weigh the credibility of witnesses and to resolve conflicts in the evidence lies with the trial court, not the appellate court. The appellate court considers the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party and disregards any inferences and evidence to the contrary. However, the appellate court gives no deference to the district court's conclusions of law.
When Gregoria C de Baca died on May 11, 2004, she was survived by nine children: Rosina Villa, Rudy C de Baca, Viola Varela, Simon C de Baca, Tom C de Baca, Daniel C de Baca, Gilbert C de Baca, Edwina Chapman, and Donna C de Baca. Gregoria's will, dated August 28, 2002, left one dollar to each of her children except Viola, who the will appointed as personal representative and to whom the will conveyed the remainder of Gregoria's estate via its residuary clause. Viola already had received much of Gregoria's real property via five inter vivos warranty deeds that had been signed and recorded about three years before Gregoria's death and about one year before the will was executed. Edwina and Gilbert, subsequently joined by Rudy, Daniel, Rosina, and Donna, brought actions in district court to set aside the will and deeds as the products of Viola's undue influence. After a trial, the district court voided the will and the deeds. The Court of Appeals concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the district court's finding of undue influence regarding the will, but did not reach the issue of the deeds.
Did sufficient evidence exist to support the district court’s conclusion that the will was void as the product of Viola's undue influence?
The Supreme Court of New Mexico reversed the Court of Appeals and held that there was sufficient evidence to support the district court's findings of a confidential relationship between Gregoria and Viola and suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of her will. Accordingly, under the rules governing civil presumptions, the Court held that sufficient evidence existed for the district court's ultimate conclusion that the will was void as the product of Viola's undue influence. Finally, because the Court of Appeals did not decide the validity of the deeds, and because this issue was not specifically briefed to the Supreme Court, the Court remanded to the Court of Appeals for its determination of this issue.