The Michigan Court of Appeals recently considered a case presenting the question of whether Anna Brudek had sufficient mental capacity to execute a deed conveying one-half of her real property to her boyfriend, Alvin Rice. In re Estate of Anna Brudek, Docket No 361461, 2023 Westlaw 6937267 (Mich Ct App Oct 19 2023).
Anna executed the deed in question on December 7, 2018, with Alvin’s assistance. Four days later, Anna was evaluated by a geriatric specialist who diagnosed her with executive dysfunction and mild-to-moderate dementia. The dementia diagnosis was confirmed by a neurophysiological exam performed about six months after the deed was executed. The medical evaluations were prompted when Anna’s daughter, a few months before execution of the deed, visited the residence Anna shared with Alvin and found it uncharacteristically filthy and disorganized, with unwashed dishes on the counter, rotting food in the refrigerator and clutter in the bedrooms.
After Anna’s death, her daughter, as personal representative of her estate, filed her complaint asking the Oakland County Probate Court for declaratory judgment that Anna’s estate was the sole owner of the real property, and that the deed was invalid. Alvin opposed the complaint and defended the validity of the deed. Following a bench trial, the probate court ruled for Anna’s estate, and Alvin appealed.
The Michigan Court of Appeals initially noted the standard for sufficient mental capacity to execute a deed of conveyance: “[A person] executing a deed of conveyance must have sufficient mental capacity to understand the business in which he was engaged, to know and understand the extent and value of his property, and how he wanted to dispose of it, and to keep those facts in mind long enough to plan and effect the conveyances in question without prompting and interference by others.” Id at *2 (internal citation omitted). Applying this standard to the case at hand, the appellate court affirmed the probate court’s judgment, finding that Anna’s estate had proved lack of mental capacity by a preponderance of the evidence.
It was fortuitous that Anna’s daughter visited her mother around the same time that the deed was executed, and that the daughter promptly arranged for medical evaluations. If the medical evaluations had occurred significantly after the deed execution, then there would have been a fact question as to whether Anna’s condition, when she signed the deed, was the same as when she was evaluated. The case reflects the importance of having regular face-to-face visits with an elderly parent and seeking medical evaluation if the parent’s mental or physical state has changed.
If you would like to discuss any concerns about transactions made by an elderly parent, please contact David Skidmore at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616.752.2491 or another member of Warner’s Probate Litigation Practice Group.