Category Archives: Undue Influence

September 26, 2017

Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover (or Fifty Ways to Plan, Administer and Litigate Estates)

by Carol Warnick

As the old song by Paul Simon contemplates, there are fifty ways to leave your lover, and there are also fifty ways to plan, administer and litigate estates and trusts.  I have recently become aware of various situations in which attorneys assume that because things are done a certain way in the state in which they practice, they are done the same way in other states.

I am licensed in three states, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and deal regularly with the significant differences between them.  For example, Colorado tends to use “by representation” in dealing with passing assets down the generations, but Utah and Wyoming both use “per stirpes.”  Read more >>

July 5, 2017

Electronic Wills

by Morgan Wiener

As regular readers of this blog know, one of our favorite topics is digital assets, including estate planning for digital assets.  Today, we’re taking a slightly different focus and discussing developments in digital estate planning, more commonly known as electronic wills.

One of the more recent developments in estate planning is the concept of electronic wills. In general, an electronic will is one that is signed and stored electronically. Instead of signing a hard copy document in ink, the testator electronically signs the will, and it is also signed by witnesses and notarized electronically.  Not surprisingly, companies like LegalZoom are very interested in this topic.

Read more >>

May 8, 2017

Recent Appellate Opinion Regarding Probate Court Jurisdiction

by Rebecca Klock Schroer

The Colorado Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion reinforcing the breadth of the probate court’s jurisdiction.  In re Estate of Arlen E. Owens, 2017COA53.

In Owens, the decedent’s brother filed a petition to set aside nonprobate payable-on-death (“POD”) transfers, alleging that at the time the decedent executed certain beneficiary designations, he lacked testamentary capacity and was unduly influenced by his caretaker.  The caretaker filed an objection based on jurisdiction, which the court denied.  After an evidentiary hearing on the petition, the trial court set aside the beneficiary designations and imposed a constructive trust over the transferred assets held by the caretaker.  Read more >>

March 1, 2017

Digital Evidence and Privacy: Can you ask Alexa if mom’s incapacitated?

by Morgan Wiener

Much has been written on this blog about digital assets, and you have likely given some thought to the impact that this relatively new category of assets has on estate planning and administration.  But have you considered the other ways in which new digital devices and technologies might impact your practice and your clients’ lives?  If not, a murder case in Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Walmart, will give you something to think about.

James Bates is accused of murdering his coworker Victor Collins (yes, they both worked at Walmart) in a hot tub in November 2015.  On the night of the alleged murder, Bates’s Amazon Echo was streaming music through its speaker, and Bentonville police have issued a search warrant for the Echo’s recording from that night hoping it will shed light on what happened.

The Amazon Echo is a speaker and virtual assistant that works by constantly listening to background noise and conversation.  The virtual assistant, Alexa, is activated when the Echo hears someone say “Alexa.”  The background conversations are not recorded by the Echo, but anything said after Alexa is activated is recorded.  Because Bates’s Echo was streaming music on the night of the alleged murder, the police believe that it may have been activated and recording conversations. Read more >>

December 19, 2016

Claims Challenging Estate Plans

by Rebecca Klock Schroer

We are seeing an increase in the number of lawsuits in which people are challenging or trying to circumvent estate plans.  The claims traditionally include lack of testamentary capacity and those involving improper actions by family members, agents under powers of attorney or conservators.

Testamentary Capacity

A challenge to an estate plan often involves a claim that the testator was not of sound mind. Under Colorado law, a sound mind includes the presence of the Cunningham factors and absence of an insane delusion that materially affected the testamentary instrument.  The Cunningham factors are as follows: the testator must (1) understand the nature of the act, (2) know the extent of his property, (3) understand the proposed testamentary disposition, (4) know the natural objects of his bounty, and (5) that the testamentary instrument represented his wishes.  Cunningham v. Stender, 255 P.2d 977 (Colo. 1953).

In addition to these factors, the testator cannot be suffering from an insane delusion.  An insane delusion exists if a person has a persistent belief, resulting from illness or disorder, in the existence or non-existence of something contrary to all evidence, which materially affects the disposition in the testamentary instrument.  Breeden v. Stone, 992 P.2d 1167 (Colo. 2000).  For example, failure to include a child in the will because the testator believes that child has been abducted by aliens and will never return to earth. Read more >>

April 25, 2016

Is Any Family at Risk for Competency Disputes?

by Matthew Skotak

Casey Kasem (famed American Top 40 DJ), Tom Benson (owner of the NBA’s Pelicans and NFL’s Saints), and Sumner Redstone (controlling shareholder of Viacom and CBS) have much in common: wealth, prestige, and status. Though many may envy their fortune and fame, they may not envy their other common thread; competency disputes.

When Casey Kasem’s health deteriorated from Parkinson’s disease, an ugly court battle ensued between his children and his wife, which did not end until he died. A challenge to Tom Benson’s competency arose after he decided to vest controlling interest in the Saints and Pelicans with his wife, and lock-out his other heirs from those teams. Similarly, Sumner Redstone’s competency was challenged by his longtime companion, Manuela Herzer, after she was removed as his health care agent and was kicked out of his California mansion. These conflicts are public and recognizable, however, thousands of similar anonymous disputes occur every day across the country involving ordinary families.

Read more >>

April 28, 2014

Should an undue influencer be responsible for paying the legal fees incurred to rectify the undue influence?

by Kelly Cooper

In a recent unpublished decision, the Colorado Court of Appeals held that a niece who unduly influenced her uncle was not responsible for the payment of the uncle's legal fees, which were required to rectify the undue influence and return the property to the uncle.

Specifically, the niece was accused of unduly influencing her uncle to give her pieces of real estate during his life. A jury found that the niece did unduly influence her uncle and that she breached her fiduciary duty to her uncle. As a result, the court ordered that the real estate be transferred back to the uncle. In addition, the jury awarded $315,000 in legal fees against the niece to make the uncle whole.

On appeal, the niece argued that she should not be responsible for the payment of attorney's fees because Colorado follows the American rule that parties in a dispute must pay their own legal fees. The uncle, through his conservator, argued that an award of legal fees was appropriate in this case under the breach of fiduciary duty/trust exception to the American rule. This exception was first recognized by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 1982. See Heller v. First Nat'l Bank of Denver, 657 P.2d 992 (Colo. App. 1982). The Colorado Supreme Court recognized the exception in 1989. See Buder v. Satore, 774 P.2d 1383 (Colo. 1989).

Despite the recognition of this exception, the Colorado Court of Appeals found that the Colorado Supreme Court has cautioned it against liberally construing any of the exceptions to the American rule.

In finding that the exception did not apply to this case of undue influence, the Colorado Court of Appeals held that the niece's breach of fiduciary duty did not closely resemble a breach of trust. In addition, the Court of Appeals found that the niece breached her duty as an individual, rather than any fiduciary duty to manage property, and that abusing personal influence is not similar to mismanaging property as a fiduciary.

The citation for the case is: In the Interest of Phillip Delluomo, Protected Person, 2012CA2513.

December 9, 2013

Probate and Trust Issues in Colorado’s Upcoming Legislative Session

by Kelly Cooper

Colorado’s General Assembly will reconvene on January 8, 2014.  At this time, it appears that at least two probate and trust related issues will be the subject of debate by the Assembly.

The first is a proposed change to the Colorado Civil Unions Act that would permit partners to a civil union to file joint income tax returns if they are permitted to do so by federal law.  Under the current proposal being considered by the Colorado Bar Association, there would be changes to both the Civil Unions Act and Colorado’s income tax statutes.  This is partly in response to the issuance of Revenue Ruling 2013-17 by the Internal Revenue Service, which permits married same sex couples to file joint federal income tax returns. 

The second is a proposal to codify a testamentary exception to Colorado’s attorney-client privilege.  The necessity and proposed scope of the testamentary exception are currently being discussed by a subcommittee of the Statutory Revisions Committee of the Trust & Estate Section of the Colorado Bar Association and will likely be discussed later this week at Super Thursday meetings.

The Colorado Supreme Court has previously recognized that the attorney-client privilege generally survives the death of the client to further one of the policies of the attorney-client privilege – to encourage clients to communicate fully and frankly with counsel.  The Colorado Supreme Court has also held that a “testamentary exception” to the privilege exists, which permits an attorney to reveal certain types of communications when there is dispute among the heirs, devisees or other parties who claim by succession from a decedent so that the intent of the decedent can be upheld.

September 30, 2013

Contest A Trust While The Grantor Is Alive

by Carol Warnick

How many times have we been told by our clients that their dad would be having a fit if he knew that one of the children was contesting his estate plan?  Or how often have we heard that mom knew there was likely to be a problem at her death, and she tried to make her trust as bullet-proof as possible, but now that she is dead some child is trying to contest it anyway? 

Wyoming and several other states across the country are amending their trust code to allow the validity of a revocable trust to be contested while the grantor is still alive.  Wyoming’s statute is found at § 4-10-604, in the middle of Wyoming’s Uniform Trust Code.  It states that a proceeding to contest the validity of the revocable trust (or an amendment thereto) can only be brought the earlier of two (2) years after the settlor’s death or one hundred twenty (120) days after the trustee sent that person a copy of the trust and a notice informing of the trust’s existence, the trustee’s name and address, and the time allowed for commencing a proceeding.  For purposes of the 120 days, notice is deemed to have been given when received by the person to whom it is given.  Absent evidence to the contrary, it is presumed that delivery to the last known address of that person constitutes receipt by that person. 

The statute makes it clear that a person failing to commence a judicial proceeding contesting the validity of the trust within the time frames listed in the statute is forever prohibited from commencing any judicial proceeding contesting the validity of the trust.

The Wyoming legislature has now given Wyoming settlors the opportunity to make sure their estate plan can’t be contested by a disgruntled child after their death.  Instead, the settlor can have the trustee send copies of the trust and the notice described above out to their beneficiaries while the settlor is still alive.  It is much less likely that the would-be-disgruntled child will decide to bring a contest while their parent is still alive and can testify about intent.  However, the settlor will have to be willing to let the children see their estate plan in order to bring this about.  Dad won’t be able to hide behind the fact that he will be dead when the kids see how dad distributed his assets among the children. 

It will be interesting to see what happens in Wyoming over the next few years and see who takes advantage of this statute to be proactive and to preclude having their revocable trust challenged after death.  Stay tuned….

September 24, 2013

Fiduciary Solutions Symposium Recap

by Kelly Cooper

Last week, we held our first Fiduciary Solutions Symposium.  We want to thank each of you that came and participated.  We enjoyed seeing all of you and getting a chance to catch up with you over breakfast.

For those of you that couldn’t attend, here is a brief recap.  When we discussed topics that we wanted to present at the Symposium, we kept coming back to the constantly evolving and changing nature of our practices.  Whether it is taxes, ADR or changes in state laws, things never stay the same.  As a result, we decided to discuss a variety of topics and the trends we are seeing each day in our practices.  It was difficult to narrow down the topics to two hours of content, but we ended up discussing the following issues:

  • Digital Assets
  • Social Media and Use in Litigation
  • Gun trusts
  • Civil Unions/Same Sex Marriage and related tax issues
  • Reformation and modification of trusts and decanting
  • Apportionment and allocation of taxes and expenses in administration
  • Baby boomers and the “Silver Tsunami”
  • Migratory Clients and Differing State Laws
  • Trends in Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Assisted Reproductive Technology

 We had so much fun that we are taking the show on the road and will be in Salt Lake City on November 12th.  We hope to see you there.