In re Will of Kaufmann
20 A.D.2d 464, 247 N.Y.S. 664, aff’d 15 N.Y.2d 825, 257 N.Y.S.2d 941, 205 N.E.2d 864 (1965)

  • Kaufman had inherited a lot of money (his family owned Kay Jewelry). He met Weiss and retained him as a ‘financial advisor’ (wink wink). Soon after they moved in together and lived together for 10 years until Kaufmann’s death.
    • Over the years, Kaufmann appeared to be dependent on Weiss. Weiss maintained the household and operated as a gatekeeper, separating Kaufmann from his two brothers and friends.
      • Weiss had access to Kaufmann’s bank accounts and had power of attorney.
  • Kaufmann had a will that left most of his estate to his brothers and other family members, but created a new will leaving a sizeable portion of his estate to Weiss.
    • As part of the new will, Kaufmann wrote a letter addressed to his family – best described as a ‘coming out of the closet at death’ letter – explaining all the reasons why he was giving money to Weiss.
  • Kaufmann’s relatives challenged the will, claiming that Weiss had undue influence over Kaufmann.
  • The Trial Court found that there had been undue influence and invalidated the will. Weiss appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and ordered a new trial. Kauffman’s relatives appealed.
  • The New York Supreme Court affirmed the Trial Court and invalidated the will.
    • The New York Supreme Court found that Weiss had unduly influenced Kauffman.
      • The Court stated that this was not a case of Weiss forcibly ordering Kaufmann to change the will, but instead Weiss subtly gained influence over Kaufmann by isolating him from others.
        • The fact that Kaufmann wanted to be with Weiss did not justify Weiss’ actions.
    • The New York Supreme Court found that this case involved, “a marked departure from a prior, natural plan of testamentary disposition which excessively and unnaturally favors a non-relative under circumstances establishing motive, opportunity, overreaching, and persistent involvement in transfers and dispositions of property in contemplation of death.”
      • Perhaps they would have felt differently if Kaufmann and Weiss had been heterosexuals…
  • In a dissent, it was suggested that the verdict rested on, “surmise, suspicion, and moral indignation and resentment, not upon the legally required proof of undue influence.”
    • If Kaufmann and Weiss hadn’t been in a homosexual relationship the court might have been more sympathetic.