October 15, 2014

Undue Influence in Estate Planning

Haste makes waste.

Unfortunately when people engage in extremely expedient estate planning, disastrous results can occur. The reason being is that legal issues are not identified and addressed due to a shortage of time. Consequently, the neglected legal issues ultimately materialize and injurious results flow.

An example of extremely expedient estate planning and its attendant disastrous outcome occurred in in the case of Mohr v. Mohr, San Bernardino Superior Court Case # PROPS1100603. According to the unpublished court of appeal opinion stemming from the case:

"Carol Slocum (decedent), the 76-year-old mother of seven children, had emergency surgery on June 26, 2011. She was in a coma for five days thereafter. In late July 2011, she was placed in a rehabilitation facility. After her condition worsened, she was admitted to a hospital emergency facility on August 2, 2011.

After her treating physicians told her she was terminal, decedent decided she needed to see her children as soon as possible. Terry, who lived with decedent, was able to arrange for most of his siblings to be at the hospital on August 3, 2011. He also arranged for a notary public (notary) with a deed to come to the hospital that day. Decedent executed the deed on that date. It served to transfer her residence from her name alone into the names of herself and Terry as joint tenants. Decedent died intestate on August 12, 2011."

Unsurprisingly, Sherri Mohr sued her brother Terri Mohr to invalidate the deed citing undue influence. 

The statement of the trial court's decision, in pertinent part, read:

"Terry brought a notary and a deed to this meeting and did not tell [decedent]. She never had the opportunity to discuss a Grant Deed with an attorney or her other children. [Decedent] knew she was dying. She was so very vulnerable to coercion. The fact that the notary told her it was a Grant Deed really does not overcome the undue influence that was present. [Decedent] knew that she had always wanted her children to share and share alike. When she was presented a document to sign, she signed it without knowing its true impact. Terry had taken advantage of his mother."

Consequently, the trial court ruled in Sherri's favor and this decision was upheld on appeal.