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A presumption of undue influence arises if there is shown to be a confidential or fiduciary relation between the primary beneficiary and the testator and if suspicious circumstances are also shown. A confidential or fiduciary relationship exists when one person places trust and confidence in the integrity and fidelity of another.
Frances Chavez Keeney died on February 28, 1993, at the age of seventy-three. She executed her last will and testament on November 29, 1990, devising the bulk of her estate to Baca and the Singletarys, none of whom were related to her. Keeney left nothing to her two surviving relatives, Alfredo Chavez, her brother, and Gurule, her sister's adopted daughter. In 1990, prior to the execution of the will, Keeney was hospitalized for extensive periods of time and for a wide range of medical problems. During that time, doctors performed several surgical procedures on her, including the amputation of one of her legs below the knee. Following the amputation, Baca, a next-door neighbor of Keeney, and Baca's cousins, the Singletarys, provided Keeney with transportation, home maintenance, meals, some banking chores, and other errands. Baca had a set of keys to Keeney's house so that she could lock the house in the evening and unlock it in the morning. For several years before the amputation, Baca was a signatory on at least one of Keeney's bank accounts. Gurule brought a will contest contending that the gifts were procured through undue influence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Baca and the Singletarys
Were there material facts in dispute which would create a presumption of undue influence over Keeney?
The court reversed that decision. First, the motion for reconsideration was treated as one to alter or amend under N.M. R. Civ. P. Dist. Ct. 1-059(E) (1986) (Repl. 1992), the equivalent of Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). As such, the affidavit presented by Gurule upon reconsideration was reviewable because it was not submitted for strategic reasons, and its relevance outweighed prejudice. Second, summary judgment in favor of Baca was improper because she had a confidential relationship with Keeney, and Keeney’s emotional instability and medical problems created suspicious circumstances and a presumption of undue influence. Finally, although Baca’s cousin did not have a confidential relationship with Keeney, summary judgment in her favor was improper because if the trier of fact found that Baca’s devise was procured through undue influence, the entire will may have been invalid.