Close this search box.

“Undue Influence” In Arizona: Examples From Court

Print Article


What constitutes “undue influence” such that a will is invalid? While disinherited family members may feel that their deceased relative was subjected to undue influence, the level of influence required is very high, as a review of the leading Arizona cases will show.

Gus Fotopulos was a “rollicking, roistering, heavy-drinking woman-chaser,” and owned a bar in Phoenix. One of his employees, Irene Parrisella, was also one of his girlfriends. He was chronically ill, but was suddenly admitted to the hospital one day with massive internal bleeding. While there, he asked Parrisella to contact his lawyer about his will.

Parrisella called Fotopulos’ lawyer and dictated the terms of his new will, which was to leave everything to her. Shortly thereafter, Parrisella’s mother picked up the will from his attorney’s office and delivered it to the hospital. Two nurses witnessed the signing. Fotopulos died a few days later.

Fotopulos’ brothers contested the will, alleging that Parrisella had exercised undue influence. They introduced testimony to the effect that she had tried to keep one brother from staying with Fotopulos during a visit to Phoenix. Parrisella had also tried to get Fotopulos to actually marry her on several occasions, but he had always said that he was paying her to work for him and if she didn’t like the arrangement she could leave.

At the jury trial, Parrisella was held to have unduly influenced the execution of the will. Despite the fact that Parrisella had been instrumental in securing the new will, the Supreme Court reversed that holding, saying that there was no evidence of undue influence. Parrisella v. Fotopulos, Ariz. Sup. Ct., 1974.

Dante Accomazzo had a daughter (Eda) by his first marriage and another daughter (Elaine) by his second wife. After his death Elaine sought to invalidate his will, which left her $100. She argued that Eda had joined forces with Accomazzo’s third wife to slander her repeatedly, and had convinced Accomazzo that she was not his daughter.

The Court of Appeals upheld the will, finding that the evidence only tended to show that Eda “had the opportunity to make and did make to the testator, her father, derogatory statemens about appellant’s mother and questioned the legitimacy of appellant.” That did not amount to undue influence. Miller v. Western Farms, Ariz. Ct. App., 1972.

In the principal Arizona case finding undue influence, the evidence is particularly strong. Cleyburn McCauley induced Bond Sneed Denson to divorce her husband by falsely telling her he was separated from his wife. Shortly thereafter, McCauley suffered a sort of seizure, during which he claimed to have a message for Denson from someone in heaven. When Denson’s ex-husband successfully argued that he should have custody of their daughter (primarily because of her cohabitation with McCauley), McCauley told her that her own mother had bribed the judge and jury to take away her daughter.

In addition to these misrepresentations, McCauley also took financial advantage of Denson. He induced her to challenge (unsuccessfully) a trust established for her by her second husband as part of the divorce proceedings. He also conspired with a friend to have Denson’s funds misused for modification of a residence for the couple. In the words of the court, through a pattern of deception and misrepresentation McCauley “evidenced a preconceived, deliberate and continuing scheme, device, plan and artifice” to defraud Denson.

After McCauley and Denson were married, he arranged for her to execute a new will. When she died shortly thereafter (she had been chronically ill and signed the will while in the hospital), the will was found to be the result of undue influence. Estate of McCauley, Ariz. Sup. Ct., 1966.

Stay up to date

Subscribe to our Newsletter to get our takes on some of the situations families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities find themselves in. These posts help guide you in the decision making process and point out helpful tips and nuances to take advantage of. Enter your email below to have our entries sent directly to your inbox!

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.