Undue Influence

In re Estate of Butts, 102 S.W.3d 801 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2003, pet. denied).


Contestants allege that Testatrix’s will was the product of undue influence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Proponents and the appellate court affirmed.

The court began its analysis with a discussion of the elements of undue influence and the basic principles which apply when a court determines whether undue influence was exerted. The court then focused on the acts of each person (Catherine, Evelyn, and Deborah) who allegedly unduly influenced Testatrix. Contestants admitted that they had no evidence supporting their allegations against Catherine. Evelyn may have had the opportunity to exert undue influence but mere opportunity is insufficient to establish undue influence. Likewise, the fact that she arranged for a notary and the witnesses for the will did not prove undue influence, especially since the attorney who prepared the will testified that Testatrix had capacity and explained the reasons behind the dispositive provisions of her will. Deborah did not even benefit from Testatrix’s will and her conduct was consistent with her role as Testatrix’s friend.

The dissenting justice explained that he believed there was more than a scintilla of evidence on each of the elements of undue influence and that according the issue should be decided by a jury.

Moral: A will contestant alleging undue influence must have enough evidence to raise a fact issue to withstand a proponent’s motion for summary judgment.