The prior article discussed generally the presumption of undue influence. There is a presumption of undue influence when the undue influencer: (1) occupies a confidential relationship with the decedent; (2) is a substantial beneficiary under the will; and (3) was active in procuring the will.
This article and the following two articles will discuss the aforementioned elements.
The term “confidential relationship” is very broad and extends to every possible case in which there is confidence reposed on one side and the resulting superiority and influence on the other. The relation and the duties involved in it need not be legal; they may be moral, social, domestic, or merely personal. The origin of the confidence and the source of the influence are immaterial. The rule embraces both technical fiduciary relations and those informal relations which exists whenever one man trusts in and relies upon another. See Quinn v. Phipps, 93 Fla. 805, 113 So. 419 (Fla. 1927); In re Estate of Gay, 201 So. 2d 807 (Fla. 4th DCA 1967). A party’s dependent condition is relevant to the issue of undue influence only after a confidential relationship exists; dependency alone does not establish a confidential relationship. See Fogel v. Swann, 523 So. 2d 1227 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1988)
EXAMPLES OF CONFIDENTIAL RELATIONSHIPS
In In re Estate of Carpenter, 253 So. 2d 697 (Fla. 1971), the court found that there was a confidential relationship between the deceased and her daughter, Mary Carpenter. Mary testified that her relationship with her mother was very close, and that her mother relied upon and depended on her very heavily. The deceased permitted Mary to make all the arrangements regarding her hospitalization and requested hospitalization in Daytona Beach (Mary’s home) rather than Orlando (the deceased’s home). Additionally, nearly all witnesses testifying at the hearing attested to Mary’s long-time close relationship with her mother. The court reasoned that this testimony was “sufficient to permit the conclusion of an inference of a confidential relationship between Mary and the deceased, especially in view of our statement in Quinn that the term “confidential relation” is a very broad one which may embrace informal relations which exist wherever one person trusts in and relies upon another.”
In Blades v. Ward, 475 So.2d 935 (Fla.3rd DCA 1985), the court found that there was a confidential relationship between the granddaughter and the decedent. The court reasoned:
Although the existence of a family relationship does not necessarily mean that a confidential relationship exists, such is the case where there is a “close” relationship between the relatives and trust or confidence of some kind is shown to exist. See Carpenter, 253 So.2d at 701. Ward can hardly take the position that she was not close to her grandmother where she is putting forth a will which leaves everything to her to the exclusion of the decedent’s children and other grandchildren. Further, the decedent’s prior will, made a part of the record by the appellants, indicates that the decedent did have trust and confidence in Ward. In the prior will, Ward was given the responsibility of administering her mother’s (decedent’s daughter’s) share of the estate passing by said will. An additional and perhaps more important indication of the decedent’s trust and confidence in Ward was Ward’s control of the decedent’s money. Ward testified that her grandmother, the decedent, would endorse her social security checks and give them to Ward to cash. Ward would cash the checks for her grandmother and then pay her grandmother’s bills. This evidence put forth by the appellants was clearly sufficient to raise the inference that a confidential relationship existed between Ward and the decedent, especially in light of the supreme court’s broad definition of confidential relation set forth in Quinn. See Carpenter, 253 So.2d at 701-02.
In Estate of Robertson, 372 So. 2d 1138 (Fla. 3d DCA 1979), the court found that there was a confidential relationship between the granddaughter and the decedent. The record reflected a close bond between the granddaughter and the deceased; that the deceased spent most of her last years in Miami living with her granddaughter; and that the deceased had expressed a desire to others to grant power of attorney to the granddaughter.
THE CONFIDENTIAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SPOUSES IS EXEMPTED FROM THE PRESUMPTION OF UNDUE INFLUENCE RULE
In contrast with the above, the confidential relationship between spouses is exempted from the presumption of undue influence rule. A husband and wife naturally have influence on each other, but it cannot be considered undue. If the confidential relationship between spouses was not exempted from the presumption of undue influence rule, the presumption would arise in nearly every case in which the spouse is a substantial beneficiary because the requirement of active procurement would almost always be present. See Jacobs v. Vaillancourt, 634 So. 2d 667 (Fla. 2nd DCA 1994); Tarsagian v. Watt, 402 So. 2d 471 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1981); In re Estate of Knight, 108 So. 2d 629 (Fla.1st DCA 1981); Blits v. Blits, 468 So. 2d 320 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1985).