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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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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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