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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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