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Wills Usually Are Valid, and Not All Family Influence is “Undue”

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JUNE 23, 2003 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 51

Occasionally a successful and colorful will contest is profiled in Elder Law Issues. EL Issues reported in 1996 that Dorothy Killen’s will was deemed invalid in an Arizona court due to Ms. Killen’s “’insane delusions’” about her truly kind relatives she believed to be Mafia killers. (May 27, 1996) And, last year EL Issues described how the Mississippi attorney who prepared “Doc” Evans’ will could offer no testimony about his client’s wishes or capacity since the attorney had never met his client. “Doc” Evans’ will was held to be invalid because it appeared that he was unduly influenced by a friend involved in his business affairs. (Dec. 2, 2002)

The Wisconsin will contest of Horlacher v. Drexler is far more typical of the majority of will contests — it was unsuccessful and fueled by dark family dysfunction.

Zoura Drexler of Walworth County, Wisconsin, properly executed a will that left her entire estate to one of her children and specifically excluded her only other child. The trial court found that Mrs. Drexler had mental capacity and that she had not been subjected to undue influence when she signed the will.

Barbara Horlacher, the excluded child, appealed the trial court’s ruling regarding her mother’s capacity. Mrs. Drexler’s physicians, the attorney who drafted her will, a neighbor and her cleaning lady had all testified that Mrs. Drexler was competent to sign her will.

The only evidence that Barbara presented at trial was the testimony of a medical expert who reviewed the medical records but who had never examined, treated or met Mrs. Drexler. Barbara also challenged the trial court’s finding that Albert, the son who inherited the estate, had not exercised undue influence over his mother. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s finding that although Albert had a “confidential relationship” with his mother based on the fact that he was named as agent in her financial power of attorney, he used the power “very, very carefully, very scrupulously, very infrequently and for very minor matters.” Thus, no suspicious circumstances surrounded the confidential relationship between Albert and his mother. Although Barbara attempted to introduce into evidence Albert’s psychiatric treatment records, this evidence was deemed inadmissible for lack of relevance. Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District II, May 7, 2003.

Horlacher v. Drexler reminds us that family members influence each other frequently, and that not all influence is undue or “overpowering.” This scenario likely would have led to the same result in Arizona and most other states.

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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.