Latham v. Father Divine

The Facts

  • Ps are the first cousins to Mary Sheldon Lyon (T)
  • Ps are not distributees
  • T died in 1946
  • T’s will, executed in 1943, left almost her whole estate to Father Divine, a religious cult.
  • The rest of the estate was left to 2 corporate Ds (in some way associated w/ the cult) and Patience Budd (one of the cult’s active followers)

Procedural History

  • Ds probated the will under a compromise w/ distributees
  • Ps contested

The Issue

  • Whether, based on the facts alleged in their complaint, Ps would be entitled to a judicial declaration

The Rule

  • Where a devisee or legatee under a will already executed prevents the testator by fraud, duress or undue influence from revoking the will and executing a new will in favor of another or from making a codicil, so that the testator dies leaving the original will in force, the devisee or legatee holds the property thus acquired upon a constructive trust for the intended devisee or legatee.

The Holding/Disposition

  • Sort of (constructive trust created)

Court’s Reasoning

  • Ps contend that T, on several occasions, expressed a desire to revoke the 1943 will and to execute a new will that would grant Ps a substantial portion of the estate.
  • Shortly prior to T’s death, t had attorneys draft her a new will that left Ps a portion of the estate valued at $350,000
  • Ps allege that the cult used false representations, undue influence and physical force to keep T from executing this new will.
  • Ps allege that Ds conspired to have T killed by the doctor performing her surgery
  • No NY law that addresses question
  • No NY law that forbids the RST approach (in rule section)

Court wants to use this approach because the trust would not act directly upon the will by modifying the gift, but rather it acts upon the gift itself

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