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An appeals court recently had to decide if a jury’s verdict that the testator lacked testamentary capacity and their verdict that the testator was unduly influenced was so conflicting that the verdict had to be set aside. In Texas, if a jury verdict has an irreconcilable conflict, the court is obligated to reverse the case.
Can a testator be unduly influenced when they are incompetent?
In general, undue influence presumes that the testator has testamentary capacity. Ruling that there was no irreconcilable conflict, the court noted that the Supreme Court has recognized that a finding of undue influence implies the existence of a sound mind. However, no court has held that a finding of undue influence requires the existence of sound mind. In fact weakness of mind and body, whether produced by infirmities of age or by disease or otherwise, may be considered as a material circumstance in determining whether or not a person was in a condition to be susceptible to undue influence. The court stated that in order to be an irreconcilable conflict, one of the jury’s answers would require a verdict for the contestant and the other would require a verdict for the proponent. Since both of these findings by the jury would require a verdict for the contestant’s, there was no irreconcilable conflict. 350 S.W.3d 130.