Estate of Kester v. Rocco
Estate of Kester v. Rocco, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D1387a, 2013 WL 3155849
This case involved an interesting discussion of what evidence an appellate court believes is appropriate to consider in cases of undue influence and lack of capacity. Here, unlike most of these cases that involve challenges to the estate planning documents themselves, two of the decedent's five children challenged the inventory of estate assets filed by one of their siblings, the personal representative of their mother's estate. The sister neglected to list several financial accounts that were payable on death or joint accounts with right of survivorship, on which the sister and two other siblings were listed as beneficiaries. The trial court found that the sister had exercised undue influence over the mother, had breached her fiduciary duties to the estate, and took possession of the accounts in question as a constructive trustee rather than a beneficiary.
The Appellate Court found the evidence insufficient for a finding of undue influence or breach of fiduciary duties. In its discussion regarding undue influence, the Court explained that a close relationship between a parent and child will not create an inference of undue influence. The Court also gave weight to the fact that the daughter was not present when her mother changed the beneficiary designations, there was no evidence that she gave her mother instructions regarding the account changes, and that she alerted the bank employees prior to her mother's meetings with them. Unlike the lower court, the Court did not give much weight to a "to do list" create by the mother and her daughter as evidence of undue influence.
The Appellate Court focused on the testimony of the financial officers regarding the mother's knowledge and awareness as evidence that showed that the mother had mental capacity. The Court also found that since the mother had made gifts to some of her other children during her life, even though there was evidence that she clearly wanted them to benefit equally from her estate at her death, that did not amount to evidence that she wanted each heir to receive equal cash distributions or that all of her property would pass via probate and non via right of survivorship.