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Man's companion entitled to compensation for services, COA rules

May 19, 2017

An Indiana probate court correctly allowed a woman’s partial claim for compensation for 14 years of household and medical services to a man she considered a “loving companion,” the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday, finding the woman had rebutted the presumption her services were gratuitous.

After George Henry’s wife, Phyllis, developed cystic fibrosis, he hired Nadene Woods to work as his wife’s assistant for four days a week at a rate of $150 per week. When Phyllis Henry died in February 1998, Woods began taking on household duties for the widower.

Then, when Henry suffered a heart attack, Woods moved into the house while also maintaining a separate residence. Woods continued to care for Henry after his second heart attack in 2010 and until his death in 2012.

After Henry died, Woods filed a claim against his estate, seeking compensation in the amount of $381,355 for her 14 years of service. The claim was substantially disallowed by the estate executor, but at an ensuing bench trial the Marion Superior Court partially allowed Woods’ claim and awarded her $125,400.

On appeal, Henry’s estate argued Woods was required to rebut a presumption that her services were gratuitous and that she was unable to meet that requirement. But Indiana Court of Appeals Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote in a Friday opinion the trial court made no specific finding or conclusion as to whether Woods rebutted such a presumption.

However, Bailey further wrote there was no evidence of a biological, marital or adoptive relationship between Henry and Woods. Thus, “the probate court’s omission of a finding or conclusion relative to whether Woods rebutted a presumption of gratuitousness is not error.”

Henry’s estate further challenged the trial court’s finding of fact that Henry had told some of his friends he didn’t need to marry Woods and that when he died she would be well taken care of. The estate claimed such a statement could have been used “to support a finding that George Henry had agreed in the future to compensate Nadene for her services,” but Bailey wrote such an argument does not provide grounds for reversal.

Finally, Henry’s estate argued Woods was unable to prove the existence of an implied contract for payment of her services in the absence of an express contract, so her claim must fail due to a lack of evidence. But the appellate panel also rejected that argument, finding the evidence of Woods’ years of service to Henry would allow her to succeed on both implied contract and unjust enrichment claims.

“(Henry’s children) made no arrangements for alternate care and thus incurred no expense depleting potential estate assets,” Bailey wrote. “It would be unjust to permit the Estate to retain all the assets preserved without making payment to Woods.”

Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik concurred in result, writing in a separate opinion “the rebuttable presumption that services are gratuitous should apply to this case because although Woods and Henry were not married, they lived together as a couple and operated as a family for fourteen years.”

But Vaidik also wrote she agreed Woods had rebutted the presumption by proving an implied contract. Thus, because the majority found an implied contract worth $125,400, Vaidik concurred in result.

The case is The Estate of George A. Henry, Deceased v. Nadene Woods, 49A05-1604-PL-810.
 

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