N.M. Woman Influenced Mother’s Will, Court Says

     (CN) – A New Mexico woman exerted undue influence on her mother by convincing her to leave the other eight children $1 each in her will, the state Supreme Court ruled.

     When Gregoria de Baca died in 2004, she had already signed over five property deeds to Viola Varela, one of her nine children. Her will left everything to Viola with the exception of the $8 for the other eight children.
     Six of the children filed a lawsuit, claiming undue influence on the part of Viola. The trial court voided the deeds and the will, but the appeals court disagreed and ruled for Viola.
     The state high court settled the matter in favor of the other children.
     “Sufficient evidence existed for the district court’s ultimate conclusion that the will was void as a product of Viola’s undue influence,” Justice Chavez wrote.
     Chavez ruled that Viola had a “confidential or fiduciary” relationship with her mother, since Gregoria relied on Viola for meals, housekeeping, and transportation. Viola also controlled Gregoria’s bank accounts and had her power of attorney.
     Chavez also overruled the lower court because at the time she executed the will, Gregoria had suffered a stroke that affected her memory and cognition.
     “Thus, we disagree with the Court of Appeals that there was insufficient evidence to justify an inference that either Gregoria’s age or health is a suspicious circumstance,” Chavez wrote.
     Also, Chavez noted that Viola kept her dealings with the mother as a secret, to the point that the siblings did not know about the deeds or the will until after she died, which Chavez called a “perfect example” of a potential case of undue influences.

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