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Allegations of undue influence surface in will dispute

A former attorney for deceased actress Julie Harris is arguing in court that her most recent will should be invalidated. He says that after he was fired by Harris, her mental capacity was not sound and that she was not competent to execute a new will with her new lawyer and that the new lawyer exercised undue influence on the actress to become the executor of her estate so that he could collect fees for that service.

The two wills are substantially similar except for the named executors. In the old will, her former lawyer is the executor, and in the new will the executor duties are shared by her more recent lawyer and a longtime friend who also receives a bequest. The lawyer contesting the new will says that he is doing so out of obligation and loyalty to his former client and to come to the aid of a beneficiary who cannot contest the will under a no-contest clause. No-contest clauses act to remove anyone from the will who has argued that a whole or a part of the will may be invalid.

These types of cases are very difficult because the court has to work with the information left behind by the person who wrote the will, along with testimony from those who knew her about her state of mind and motivations when the wills were written. This can be difficult to determine since few people are contemplating this type of controversy ahead of time, so documentation and memories can be a bit spotty. 

Source: ABA Journal, “Former lawyer for deceased stage actress Julie Harris sues to invalidate her will,” Martha Neil, Jan. 14, 2014. 

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