The Danger of Letting Emotions Dictate Your Actions

Some of the most difficult situations I encounter involve disputes between adult children from a prior marriage and the parent’s subsequent spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend.  These situations can be highly emotional and often result in angst for all the parties involved.  As revealed in a recent California Superior Court case, when children put their own interests over those of an ailing parent (or fail to conduct a careful investigation BEFORE filing a lawsuit), the outcome can be disastrous.

Shortly after Frank was diagnosed with dementia, one of his children assumed the role of Successor Trustee.  The daughter found several joint bank accounts that had been opened by her father with his longtime girlfriend, Marilyn, with whom he had a 24 year relationship.  There was also $100,000 that Frank had directed Marilyn to transfer from a joint account to her separate account.  Eventually, due to his deteriorating condition, Frank was transferred to a facility and Marilyn remained active in his care.  The daughter became upset upon learning of the joint accounts and $100,000 transfer and subsequently closed the accounts.  Shortly thereafter, the daughter restricted Marilyn’s visits and, eventually, arranged for Frank to be transferred to another facility and would not disclose his location.  Marilyn was never told of the funeral arrangements after Frank passed away.  Marilyn became very depressed during her exclusion from Frank and despite repeated requests was not permitted to see him prior to his death.

Shortly before Frank’s death, his children filed a lawsuit against Marilyn claiming that as a result of undue influence Marilyn obtained approximately $800,000 while he was incapacitated.  Marilyn counterclaimed for intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The children were only able to establish that their father had transferred $100,000 to Marilyn at a time that he had capacity.  As a result, the jury found in favor of Marilyn regarding the allegations of undue influence.  In addition, the jury found the children’s behavior of isolating Frank from Marilyn to constitute “outrageous behavior” and awarded her damages in the amount of $323,700.

On appeal, the Children Claimed the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim should have been dismissed.  In an unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeals concluded the claim was appropriate and ruled in favor of Marilyn.  The Court noted the Children’s conduct occurred over a 9-month period and it was clear they were attempting to punish Marilyn for a reduction in their inheritance.  In short, had the Children been able to establish they were acting in their father’s best interest, another outcome may have been the result,  However, the Court appears to have concluded the jury’s determination that “a reasonable person could find this conduct exceeded the bounds of conduct expected in a civilized society” was not erroneous.

At the Law Offices of Lee A. Drizin , our Las Vegas Probate Attorneys have extensive experience in the representation of families involving undue influence and financial exploitation matters.  If you believe your loved one may have been the victim of this type of conduct, please contact us immediately at 702-798-4955.

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