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Montana Woman’s Will, Deed To Home Both Held To Be Valid

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Christine and George Tipp lived in Missoula, Montana. They had seven children, including daughters Sylvia and Dorothy.

George Tipp became ill in the mid-80s, and was briefly placed in a nursing home. When the entire family became dissatisfied with his care, they arranged to bring him home to be cared for by Christine. For the next few years, she was helped out by Sylvia and another daughter. Since Christine did not drive and George could no longer do so, they gave their car to Sylvia; she used it to take them to medical appointments and run their errands.

After George Tipp died in 1988, Christine continued to live in the family home. A few years later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer; two years later, she fell and broke her hip. During all these medical setbacks, daughter Sylvia continued to provide help for her mother.

In early 1993, Sylvia took her mother to two office appointments with Christine’s attorney. The appointments were arranged by Christine herself, and Sylvia was apparently not advised of the purpose of the visits. Later, Christine told Sylvia that she had transferred her home into joint tenancy with Sylvia, and had executed a new will leaving everything to Sylvia.

One month after the new will and deed were signed, Christine traveled to California to visit her ill son. She made the trip by herself, but when she returned Sylvia and her husband moved in with her and provided additional care.

In less than a year, Christine died. Upon her death, the other children learned for the first time of her transfer of the property to Sylvia and the new will. Daughter Dorothy brought suit in the Montana courts to try to block admission of the will to probate, and to invalidate the transfer of the home.

The trial court conducted extensive hearings, and ultimately decided that Christine had acted on her own in making the changes. Dorothy, unhappy with that result, appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.

Dorothy argued that her sister Sylvia had been in a position to exercise undue influence over Christine. She pointed out that Sylvia took care of her mother’s finances, paying bills and providing care. She also noted that Christine was physically ill and susceptible to undue influence.

The attorney who prepared Christine’s will, his secretary, a hospice worker and a neighbor of Christine’s all had testified that she was aware of what she was doing until long after the will and property transfer were completed. Several witnesses also testified about the trip to California Christine made, without assistance, a month after the documents were signed.

Montana’s highest court decided that Dorothy had failed to produce enough evidence to set aside the will and deed. Specifically, the court ruled that there was insufficient evidence of any mental deficiency which would have made Christine unable to resist Sylvia’s influence. The transfer of the house and Christine’s new will were both upheld. In re Estate of Tipp, Montana Supreme Court, February 4, 1997.

Arizona law is very similar to Montana law on undue influence. Under Montana law, there are five elements which the court must consider to determine the likelihood of undue influence, including the confidential nature of the relationship between the parties, the physical disabilities of the individual under influence, his or her mental limitations, the unusual distribution of property, and the demands made on the person. Arizona law applies a similar test, though it consists of seven indicators. The principal difference: in a case such as Christine Tipp’s, daughter Sylvia would have had the burden of showing that she did not exercise undue influence, rather than Dorothy having to prove that she had.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.