ILNews

Man wasn't competent to sign contract

Jennifer Nelson
July 28, 2009
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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a neighbor of a mentally ill man shouldn't have been able to purchase the man's farm because the man was incompetent when he signed the sales contract.

In James Nichols v. Estate of Ernest M Tyler,  No. 45A04-0811-CV-640, the appellate court determined the trial court didn't err when it concluded Ernest Tyler was incompetent in February 2005 to convey his farm nor did it err by determining James Nichols failed to rebut the presumption of undue influence over Tyler with regard to the real property transfer.

Tyler had a history of mental illness and was in and out of hospitals his entire life. He could answer simple questions but never carried on a conversation. Tyler lived with a brother on a farm near Nichols. Once the brother died, Tyler's family asked Nichols to look after him.

As a result of a check scam, Nichols brought Tyler to Nichols' attorney and had Tyler sign a durable power of attorney appointing Nichols as his attorney in fact, which allowed Nichols to deal with the bank directly regarding the scam. The attorney also helped Tyler form a revocable living trust and transferred the farm and farmhouse to the trust. Nichols was the trustee. Tyler then signed a contract, which sold the property in the trust to Nichols. Nichols agreed to pay Tyler $200 a month until Tyler's death. Tyler's family knew nothing about the check scam, trust, or real estate sale. The attorney was unaware of Tyler's mental health history.

The family became concerned after they discovered Nichols held the only key to Tyler's home, Tyler lived in filth, and Nichols controlled Tyler's mail and phone line. He prevented family members from visiting unannounced and videotaped their meetings with Tyler. A doctor evaluated Tyler and found he had Alzheimer's disease, but couldn't say whether he was competent when he signed the contract. Family members eventually gained guardianship over Tyler, who died several months later.

At the trial challenging the contract of sale, the court found Tyler was incompetent at all times, he had an extensive history of mental illness, the doctor who examined him testified Tyler was incompetent at the time he entered into the agreements at issue, and Nichols' undue influence resulted in Tyler deeding his property to a trust and selling it to Nichols.

The trial court didn't err in finding Tyler was mentally incompetent when he signed the contract of sale, wrote Judge Elaine Brown. The Court of Appeals refused to reweigh the evidence as to the doctor's testimony. The trial court found the doctor's expert opinion was sound, she wrote. The Court of Appeals also rejected Nichols' argument that Tyler's competency should be compared to the standards for competency to stand trial in criminal cases because the standard to be used in the instant case is like that in making a will, she wrote. The evidence shows prior to and after making the contract, Tyler had a lack of mental capacity based on his history of hospitalization and his poor living conditions and hygiene.

Nichols also failed to rebut the presumption of undue influence of Tyler. Undue influence can be proven by circumstantial evidence, which there was enough of in the instant case for the trial court to find he unduly influenced Tyler into selling his property for inadequate consideration. Nichols isn't a credible witness and many of his arguments were merely an invitation to reweigh the evidence, which the appellate court cannot do, wrote the judge.

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  1. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  2. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  3. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  4. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  5. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

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