“UNDUE INFLUENCE” AND THE CARETAKER CHILD

We often see a middle-aged “child” becoming the caretaker for an elderly parent.  Sometimes siblings are grateful that such care is being provided.  However, many times those same siblings become very unhappy if the caretaker child is left with a bigger slice of the inheritance pie, or worse yet, has become joint owner with mom on a bank account before mom’s death, so that 100% of those funds go to the caretaker child rather than being split equally under mom’s will.  A lawsuit invariably follows against the caregiver child.

The question is whether we have a “dutiful” child whose sacrifices to care for an elderly parent were rewarded by a voluntary gift from mom or a “scheming” child who utilizes the close relationship to “unduly influence” mom to get the bulk of her assets.  Undue influence is presumed when (i) a person with a confidential (close) relationship with the decedent, (ii) is active in procuring or securing the preparation or execution of a devise (will or other gift) and (iii) is a substantial beneficiary of that devise.

The problem, as was recognized in the recent Florida case of Estate of Kester v. Rocco, is that any child who is truly caring for a frail, elderly parent will most likely (i) have a close relationship with mom; (ii) help mom choose an attorney, drive mom to the attorney, and discuss mom’s plan; and (iii) receive a large part of mom’s assets under her plan, therefore meeting the undue influence test.  However, the court in Estate of Kester said that undue influence should not be presumed when the only evidence presented was that the caregiver child had a close relationship with and often assisted his aging parent.

Although the guidelines aren’t perfectly clear, this recent case provides help for all those dutiful, caring children who want to take care of their elderly parent without worrying that they will be a target for their ungrateful siblings.

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