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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Family claims inheritance stolen through financial exploitation

Law enforcement and other officials in Minnesota and around the nation have noticed increasing numbers of cases involving the financial exploitation of vulnerable seniors. Sadly, many family members don't even find out about the exploitation until after their loved ones have passed away, and they learn that the deceased's estate has been damaged by scam artists. In these cases, heirs and beneficiaries may file a will contest in court.

Recently, distant relatives of a wealthy woman who died in 2011 claimed that a hospital had tricked her out of millions of dollars. According to the family, the hospital kept the woman in an expensive room in the hospital for 20 years even though she didn't need round-the-clock medical care. The relatives also claim that hospital officials manipulated the woman into giving millions of dollars in donations to the hospital during her life and a $1 million bequest in her will.

According to the relatives, the woman was in a childlike state in the later decades of her life, playing with dolls and watching cartoons. But at the same time, hospital officials pressed her to make financial decisions about her estate. In their lawsuit, the relatives are claiming, among other things, that the woman's will, which was revised to make a large donation to the hospital, is invalid.

Minnesota law requires that in order for a will to be valid, the person who made it, known as "the testator," must have had testamentary capacity at the time the will was made. This means that the testator must have been age 18 or older. In addition, they must have understood the extent and value of the property, who the expected beneficiaries were, what a will is and how these elements work together to distribute the property. If the family can prove that the testator lacked testamentary capacity, the will can be ruled invalid.

Likewise, the heirs may be able to prove that the testator lacked capacity to make the will or that the will was executed under undue influence.

Minnesota families who fear that their elderly loved ones are being financially exploited should contact the police. Families who wish to contest a will should get help researching their financial options.

Source: New York Times, "Hospital Caring for an Heiress Pressed Her to Give Lavishly," Anemona Hartocollis, May 29, 2013

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