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Sisters can’t prove brother unduly influenced mother in crafting estate plan

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the order by a trial court that the execution of an option contract by a woman to her son was enforceable. The woman’s daughters claimed the contract was a result of undue influence.

Kenneth Hayes has power of attorney over his mother. In 2005, Phyllis Hayes executed a promissory note, mortgage, will, and an option contract as part of her estate plan created by attorney Joseph Certain. Certain created the documents pursuant to Phyllis Hayes’ request and videotaped Phyllis Hayes on March 3, 2005, explaining why she set up her estate plan the way she did. The option contract allowed Kenneth Hayes to purchase her 200-acre farm at $2,500 per acre, for a total price of $500,000, a reasonable fair market price at the time. She explained that her son would receive more of the assets than her other children because she was repaying a $180,000 loan he had made to her and her husband in the 1980s to keep the farm running.

Kenneth Hayes told his sisters Jo Ann Hayes and Dianna Hale in 2010 that he was going to purchase the farm. They objected because the farm is worth far more now than it was when their mother created the option contract. Their expert valued the price per acre between $8,000 and $10,000.
 
After a hearing, the trial court found that Kenneth Hayes did not unduly influence his mother to make the contract. Although his mother was found to be incompetent in 2011, her doctor testified that she was mentally competent to enter into the 2005 contract. The sisters appealed.

“The trial court’s numerous findings, which were based on Phyllis’s attorney’s testimony and the video of Phyllis taken at the time the option contract was executed, support its conclusion that Kenneth did not unduly influence Phyllis. Further, any doubt as to whether the trial court held Kenneth to the higher standard of proof is eliminated by the trial court’s conclusion ‘that it would be reasonable to conclude that [Phyllis] was in a superior position’ because she was represented by counsel and Kenneth was not,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote in Guardianship of Phyllis D. Hayes, an Adult, Joann Hayes and Dianna Hale v. Kenneth J. Hayes, 52A02-1308-GU-751.

The sisters simply have not shown that the manner in which the estate plan was crafted establishes that Kenneth Hayes failed to rebut the presumption of undue influence, the appeals court held.

 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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