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COA: No presumption of undue influence

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A 2005 amendment to Indiana Code sets aside the common law presumption of undue influence with respect to certain transactions benefiting an attorney in fact, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today on an issue of first impression.

The appellate judges had to decide in Gregory D. Compton, et al. v. First National Bank of Monterey, as personal representative of the estate of Stephen Craig Compton, et al., No. 66A03-0906-CV-249, if in light of a 2005 amendment to Indiana Code Section 30-5-9-2(b), the common law presumption of undue influence doesn't apply to a transaction where the principal takes action, the power of attorney is unused, and the attorney in fact benefits.

Stephen Compton's will in 2005 provided for his six children in varying degrees. His son Gregory was going to get 150 acres of his farmland. His power of attorney named his son Scott as his attorney in fact.

In 2008, Stephen became ill and was hospitalized with end-stage renal disease. He entered into a contract with Scott and his wife to buy the 150 acres willed to Gregory. Stephen also executed a contract to purchase Scott's home and put the house in his name. The sales hadn't been completed because of Stephen's death.

Monterey Bank asked the trial court to allow it to complete the contracts, which the trial court approved. Stephen's children Gregory, Sara, and Megan had objected and appealed the order.

The children argued the trial court should have applied the common law presumption of undue influence on the transactions, and that if applied, Scott failed to rebut it. Scott and the bank argued the 2005 amendment to I.C. 30-5-9-2(b) ended the common law presumption of undue influence.

There is scant caselaw on the statute in general and none on the issue since the amendment took effect. The Court of Appeals relied on Henry's Indiana Probate Law and Practice, which said 2(b) does abrogate the common law presumption of undue influence.

"A presumption of undue influence is now conditioned upon the attorney in fact's actual use of the power of attorney to effect the questioned transaction for his or her benefit," wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik. "The benefiting attorney in fact is freed from the presumption of undue influence so long as the power of attorney is unused in the questioned transaction."

The appellate court also found Stephen, as the principal, took action in the case by signing the contracts, previously inquiring into selling his farmland before he was hospitalized, and asking a bank to value the farm real estate. The children also failed to show undue influence on Scott's part by showing the imposition of his power to deprive his father of the exercise of free will, the judge continued. The evidence supports Stephen acted under his free will, so the appellate court affirmed the grant of the bank's petition for completion of the contracts.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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