Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Estate of Lakatosh case brief

Estate of Lakatosh case brief summary
441 Pa. Super. 133

PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Appellant claimant sought review of a decision by the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County (Pennsylvania) that ordered a constructive trust be imposed and decedent's will be revoked.

OVERVIEW: Appellee, guardian of an estate, filed a petition for an accounting and imposition of a constructive trust on appellant claimant. Appellee sought revocation of decedent's last will and testament on grounds of undue influence. The trial court ordered that a constructive trust be imposed and that decedent's will be revoked. Appellant contended that the trial court erred in finding that decedent's will was an invalid testamentary disposition and subject to revocation.

The court affirmed the judgment, holding that the trial court properly concluded that a confidential relationship existed between decedent and appellant.

The grant of a power of attorney to respondent was in itself sufficient for a finding that a confidential relationship existed. The court also found that appellant was to receive the bulk of decedent's estate. The court found that decedent suffered from a weakened intellect at the time the will was executed. Thus, the trial court did not commit error or abuse its discretion in ruling that decedent's will should be revoked because appellant failed to carry his burden of proving the absence of undue influence.

OUTCOME: The court affirmed the decision that ordered a constructive trust imposed upon appellant claimant and decedent's will revoked. A finding of undue influence was proper where a confidential relationship existed between decedent and appellant, appellant received the bulk of decedent's estate, and decedent suffered from a weakened intellect.

Estate of Lakatosh (Pa. Super. 1994) [22 CB 159]: Neighbor Roger took care of elderly testator Rose including getting power of attorney and getting the bulk of Rose’s estate under her will, which was drafted by a Roger’s second cousin.  Roger converted nearly half of Rose’s estate before her death (transferring a chunk of it to his lover), and left Rose to live in squalor.  Rule: Contestant arguing undue influence can shift burden to proponent to prove lack of undue influence where (1) there was confidential relationship, (2) person enjoying such relationship got bulk of estate, and (3) decedent’s intellect was weakened.  These elements are met in this case.
i.    This is about as close as you get to the quintessential undue influence case
ii.   A confidential relationship can occur where the weaker party comes to rely on the stronger one and the weaker party is otherwise in a compromised position
iii.  Court’s remedy is constructive trust, which is typical remedy for undue influence

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