We’ve all heard the standup phrase, “would it kill you to call me?” But behind the comedy is a truth. Many of us live hundreds of miles apart from our parents and other family members and far too many of our aging parents, aunts, and uncles, and grandparents are living alone. We don’t talk to each other as much as we should and we may see each other only once a year. Not only do we lose out on the joys of participating in each others lives, but this distance creates opportunities for unscrupulous individuals to destroy our family relationships. A striking case from Washington State illustrates this point.
Eva Barnes was an independent woman in her nineties. She lived with her husband in rural Washington State on land her family had homesteaded. After Mrs. Barnes’ husband died, she lived alone. The only person she saw on a consistent basis was her mail carrier. Possibly because of her loneliness, Barnes became more and more dependent on the mail carrier for companionship. When Barnes fell, the mail carrier, moved into her house to take care of her. As you probably suspect, the mail carrier’s actions were not entirely altruistic. During this time, the mail carrier and her husband were in financial difficulties and Barnes had money and property. The mail carrier even became Barnes’ power of attorney, replacing her niece. Barnes began paying the mail carrier’s personal expenses. Shortly before her death, the mail carrier wrote a check using Barnes funds to pay her own mortgage.
In addition to alienating Barnes from her money, the mail carrier alienated Barnes from her family by telling Barnes falsehoods that her family had destroyed her beloved address book and wanted to put her into a nursing home. Barnes became fearful of her family and angry towards them. To further consolidate her power over Barnes, the mail carrier badmouthed Barnes’ family to neighbors and tenants, telling the tenants that Barnes’ family members were greedy and were planning to evict them in order to sell the land, develop the property, and get rich. (It is a common tactic of undue influencers to badmouth the victim's family, both to the victim and to people who could potentially intervene to help the victim or inform the victim’s family.) The mail carrier also changed Barnes’ long distance calling plan, making it difficult for family and friends to reach Barnes by phone.
A few months before Barnes died, the mail carrier took Barnes to a lawyer’s office to execute a new will. The new will completely disinherited Barnes’ entire family and left everything to the letter carrier. Barnes died on June 27, 2011. The letter carrier submitted the new will for probate, triggering a probate battle that lasted almost five years. It finally ended on January 28, 2016, when the Supreme Court of the State of Washington held the trial court properly invalidated the will procured by the mail carrier because of the undue influence she exerted over Barnes. You can read the full case here. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/wa-supreme-court/1724436.html
Staying in touch is one way to protect your loved ones from financial exploitation and abuse. So the next time you think about your parents or grandparents, take the next step! Pick up the phone and give them a call. It won’t kill you and it may save your family a whole lot of trouble! To find out more about how estate planning can protect your family relationships and your assets, contact us at 980.247.3011 to schedule a onsultation with Nancy. For information about protecting yourself from financial exploitation, check out this blog post: https://www.nancyrobertslawfirm.com/blog/6-ways-to-avoid-financial-exploitation.cfm
DISCLAIMER: The contents of this post are for educational purposes only. The information offered in this post does not constitute legal advice and reading the information does not create an attorney client relationship with Nancy Roberts or the Brockmann Law Firm. Before taking any action, you should always seek legal advice from an attorney you hire, who advises you based on your specific facts, circumstances, situation, and the appropriate governing law.