Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Latham v. Father Divine case brief

Latham v. Father Divine case brief summary
299 N.Y. 22

SYNOPSIS: Plaintiffs, decedent's first cousins, challenged the judgment of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Fourth Judicial Department (New York), which held in favor of defendants, cult leader and others, by reversing an order of the trial court denying a motion by defendants for a dismissal of the amended complaint for insufficiency, and granting the motion.

-Plaintiffs, decedent's first cousins, were not distributees of decedent's will, which gave almost her entire estate to defendants, cult leader and others.
-Plaintiffs claimed that shortly prior to the death of the deceased she had attorneys draft a new will in which plaintiffs were named as legatees for a very substantial amount and that defendants' false representations, undue influence, and physical force prevented the deceased from executing the new will.
-Plaintiffs claimed that those facts, if proven, would have entitled them to a judicial declaration that defendants, taking under the already probated will, held what they had so taken as constructive trustees for plaintiffs, whom decedent wished to, tried to, and was kept from, benefiting.
-The court reversed the judgment of the appellate court dismissing plaintiffs' complaint because plaintiffs may have had a constructive trust claim.

When an heir or devisee under a will prevents the testator from making a will or deed in favor of another, by fraud, duress, or undue influence, such heir or devisee will be deemed a trustee over the gift in favor of the intended beneficiary.

-The validity of a will rests upon testamentary intent and meeting the proper staturory requirements. -When the evidence proves an heir through misrepresentations and physical force prevents a testator from carrying his testamentary desires, the court will impose a constructive trust to carry out equity. -Though the court will enforce the will, valid on its face, it will not allow an heir to benefit from such wrongful conduct.

HOLDING:: The court reversed the judgment of the appellate court in favor of plaintiffs, decedent's first cousins, because they could have a constructive trust claim against defendants, cult leader and others, for taking under decedent's will by keeping decedent from benefitting plaintiffs.

Latham v. Father Divine (N.Y. 1949) [CB 189]: Decedent executed a will leaving much of her property to religious leader Father Divine.  Plaintiffs brought evidence that decedent had a new will drawn, but did not execute it based on threat of violence and intimidation by Father Divine.  Rule: If there is duress, the appropriate remedy is a constructive trust in plaintiffs’ favor.

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