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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. As one of the many consumers affected by this breach, I found my bank data had been lifted and used to buy over $200 of various merchandise in New York. I did a pretty good job of tracing the purchases to stores around a college campus just from the info on my bank statement. Hm. Mr. Hill, I would like my $200 back! It doesn't belong to the state, in my opinion. Give it back to the consumers affected. I had to freeze my credit and take out data protection, order a new debit card and wait until it arrived. I deserve something for my trouble!

  2. Don't we have bigger issues to concern ourselves with?

  3. Anyone who takes the time to study disciplinary and bar admission cases in Indiana ... much of which is, as a matter of course and by intent, off the record, would have a very difficult time drawing lines that did not take into account things which are not supposed to matter, such as affiliations, associations, associates and the like. Justice Hoosier style is a far departure than what issues in most other parts of North America. (More like Central America, in fact.) See, e.g., http://www.theindianalawyer.com/indiana-attorney-illegally-practicing-in-florida-suspended-for-18-months/PARAMS/article/42200 When while the Indiana court system end the cruel practice of killing prophets of due process and those advocating for blind justice?

  4. Wouldn't this call for an investigation of Government corruption? Chief Justice Loretta Rush, wrote that the case warranted the high court’s review because the method the Indiana Court of Appeals used to reach its decision was “a significant departure from the law.” Specifically, David wrote that the appellate panel ruled after reweighing of the evidence, which is NOT permissible at the appellate level. **But yet, they look the other way while an innocent child was taken by a loving mother who did nothing wrong"

  5. Different rules for different folks....

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