Son not entitled to accounting of mom’s finances from POA daughter, appellate court rules

A Greenwood man will not obtain an accounting of his mother’s finances, as the Court of Appeals of Indiana has affirmed it is in the best interest of the woman that those details stay between her and the daughter she named as her guardian.

Darlene DeHart and her husband had two children, Jeff and Christine. In July 2020, shortly before her husband’s death, Darlene and Christine signed an “Indiana Durable Power of Attorney,” which named Christine as Darlene’s attorney-in-fact. Darlene moved in with Christine after her husband passed away.

Jeff later asked Christine to give him a copy of the power of attorney and to provide an accounting of Darlene’s income and expenses. Christine gave Jeff a list of Darlene’s bank accounts and a history of recent transactions, which Christine signed under oath.

Then in February, Jeff filed a verified petition for accounting of financial transactions under power of attorney, asserting he had not seen the power of attorney and believed Christine was misappropriating Darlene’s funds. The Johnson Superior Court issued an order directing Christine to produce the power of attorney and either an accounting of Darlene’s finances or an objection to Jeff’s request.

Christine later filed a copy of the power of attorney with the trial court.

Next, Darlene filed a motion to intervene, along with an objection to Jeff’s verified petition for accounting. The court granted Darlene’s request to intervene, and it held an evidentiary hearing.

The court subsequently denied Jeff’s request for an accounting, concluding that it was not “in the best interest of Darlene DeHart to require an account by her duly appointed Attorney In Fact in the absence of incapacity, undue influence, abuse, or misappropriation.”

On appeal, the Court of Appeals found error but affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

The COA concluded Jeff, as the petitioner, bore the burden of proving only that he was Darlene’s child, and upon doing so, he would be entitled to an accounting under the plain language of the statute unless the “best interests of the principal” exception applied.

“It appears to us that Darlene should have borne the burden of demonstrating that the exception applied,” former Indiana Chief Justice and now-Senior Judge Randall Shepard opined for the court. “It is unclear from the court’s order where the court placed the burden of proof, but to the extent that it placed upon Jeff the burden of proving that the exception did not apply, that was error.

“… Darlene told the trial court she approved of Christine’s efforts as her agent,” Shepard continued. “She further stated Christine discussed Darlene’s bills with her, and she had input on what bills got paid. Finally, Darlene explained she believed Jeff was interested only in her money, and she opposed his request for an accounting because her finances were none of his business.”

Despite Jeff pointing to evidence that Darlene did not know the details of all her bank accounts, and his testimony that he was concerned Christine was improperly using Darlene’s money and that he believed Darlene’s mental state was deteriorating, the COA found his argument was a request to reweigh the evidence.

“We conclude there is ample evidence to support a conclusion that Darlene proved an accounting was not in her best interests because: (1) she was competent to appoint and maintain Christine as her agent; and (2) she is entitled to privacy in the management of her finances,” Shepard wrote. “Any error in the trial court’s allocation of the burden of proof was harmless.”

The case is In the Matter of the Power of Attorney of Darlene DeHart, Jeff DeHart v. Darlene DeHart, 21A-GM-1043.

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