Law School Case Brief
Latham v. Father Divine - 299 N.Y. 22, 85 N.E.2d 168 (1949)
Where a devisee or legatee under a will already executed prevents the testator by fraud, duress or undue influence from revoking the will and executing a new will in favor of another or from making a codicil, so that the testator dies leaving the original will in force, the devisee or legatee holds the property thus acquired upon a constructive trust for the intended devisee or legatee.
Plaintiffs, decedent's first cousins, claimed that shortly prior to her death, decedent had attorneys draft a new will in which plaintiffs were named as legatees for a very substantial amount and that defendants, a cult leader and others, made false representations, exerted undue influence, and physical force that prevented decedent from executing the new will. Plaintiffs specifically asserted that, shortly before decedent's death, decedent again expressed her determination to execute the proposed new will which favored plaintiffs, and that defendants "thereupon conspired to kill, and did kill, the deceased by means of a surgical operation performed by a doctor engaged by the defendants without the consent or knowledge of any of the relatives of the deceased." The trial court denied the motion by defendants for a dismissal, but the appellate court reversed. Defendants sought further appellate review.
Did the plaintiffs acquire a constructive trust over the decedent’s property?
The court reversed the judgment of the appellate court in favor of plaintiffs, decedent's first cousins, because they could have a constructive trust claim against defendants, cult leader and others, for taking under decedent's will by keeping decedent from benefitting plaintiffs.
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