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A Better Partnership
December 04, 2019

Proving That Bank Account Funds Were Obtained Through Undue Influence

David recently helped his client obtain a favorable ruling in an undue influence case before the Ionia County Probate Court. The case involved four siblings. To maintain client privacy, the siblings’ real names will not be used; instead, they will be called Abbie, Burt, Charles, and Dena. Abbie was David’s client.
 
For many years, Burt had designated his sister Abbie as the joint owner of his largest bank account. During the last six months of his life, Burt was unable to care for himself and went into a nursing facility. Initially, Burt’s friend served as power of attorney and helped Burt pay his bills. When the friend resigned as power of attorney, Burt’s other siblings, Charles and Dena stepped in. Instead of having a new power of attorney document prepared, Dena told Burt that he needed to create a new bank account, with Charles and Dena as joint owners, in order for them to help him pay his bills. Burt signed paperwork to open the new bank account and withdrew most of the funds from the original account with Abbie as joint owner (more than $300,000). Dena deposited those funds in the new account. The new account was not used to pay a single bill of Burt’s. When Burt died shortly after the new account was created, Charles and Dena received more than $300,000, which otherwise would have been inherited by Abbie as joint owner of the original account.
 
Abbie sued Charles and Dena, alleging that the creation of the new account and the withdrawal of the funds from the original account were invalid on the grounds of undue influence. Charles and Dena opposed the lawsuit and denied Abbie’s claims. Abbie moved for summary disposition, asking the Probate Court to find that there was no factual dispute and that the case could be decided in her favor without holding a trial. Abbie offered evidence establishing the presumption of undue influence (confidential or fiduciary relationship; opportunity to influence; and benefit) and argued that Charles and Dena had offered no evidence to rebut the presumption. The Probate Court agreed, finding that the transactions were invalid on the grounds of undue influence and that there was no need for a trial. The Probate Court ordered Charles and Dena to return all of the money to Abbie.
 
If you would like to discuss a trust or estate dispute with David, you may contact him at 616.752.2491 or dskidmore@wnj.com.

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