Our Atlanta, Georgia, probate, estate, and fiduciary litigation law Firm has experienced a remarkable increase in the number of Georgia breach of fiduciary duty lawsuits we have litigated (or are presently litigating) over the past several years. Likewise, our wills, trusts, and estate attorneys have also seen a significant increase in the number of Georgia will contest lawsuits we have litigated (or are presently litigating).
Perhaps the increase in Georgia breach of fiduciary duty and will contest lawsuits, is in part, attributable to the economic downturn wherein many are watching their wallets and bank accounts, as well as the wallets and bank accounts of others (especially the elderly, incompetent, and incapacitated). I hope that there is an increased awareness into the widespread elder abuse, which is occurring throughout the state of Georgia. Inherently, this elder abuse involves deception and misrepresentation for financial gain. What is more, and I think a definite reason for the increase in cases involving litigation surrounding exploitation of the elderly, is some legal guidance from the Supreme Court of Georgia in a noted case, Bailey v. Edmundson, 280 Ga. 528, 630 S.E.2d 396 (2006). This case is important for a number of reasons which range from what factors make your case a practicable one, to who are the persons we need to keep a watchful eye on or are likely to take advantage of others for financial gain.
In several of my Atlanta, Georgia, probate and estate litigation cases, I use the Georgia Supreme Courts’ findings in Bailey v. Edmundson as my guidelines in assessing the legal implications of matters pertaining to any case involving undue influence as well as lack of capacity, misuse and abuse of power of attorney, and other such cases. Further, it should be noted that undue influence, lack of capacity, and other such factors are usually present together in the facts of any given case. As such, facts found in an undue influence case are likely to be found in a case involving lack of capacity (For Example: Lack of capacity is a condition, which oftentimes allows the undue influence to occur).
In Bailey v. Edmundson, the Georgia Supreme Court considered the following factors as relevant factors in determining undue influence:
Some of the relevant factors to consider in determining whether undue influence exists include:
• Was there a confidential relationship between the parties?
• Was the testator’s disposition of assets reasonable?
• What were the testator’s dealings and associations with the beneficiaries?
• What were the testator’s habits, motives, or feelings?
• What were the testator’s physical and mental strengths and weaknesses?
• What were the testator’s social relations?
• What were the testator’s business relations?
• Where there any other facts, circumstances, or conditions that establish unwarranted implementation of improper influence on the mind of the testator?
• Did any of the above factors result in the testator taking action to be the victim of the undue influence?
• What was the moral fiber of the people exercising the influence? What is bad? If so, how and why?
A transaction is presumed to be the result of undue influence when the parties are in a confidential relationship with each other and one party has a much greater mental ability than the other does, who may be aged or ill, and the one having the greater mental ability reaps the benefits of the transaction.
Case Study: In the case of Bailey v. Edmundson, 280 Ga. 528, 630 S.E.2d 396 (2006).
Mr. Bailey executed a will in October of 2003 naming his daughter as the personal representative of his will and the primary beneficiary. Approximately six months later, Mr. Bailey hired caregivers he met at church. Within a short period thereafter, Mr. Bailey executed a new will making specific bequests to these caregivers.
The Supreme Court found that there was ample evidence of undue influence for the reason that the caregivers did the following:
• The caregivers established a relationship with Mr. Bailey, which was confidential in nature;
• The caregivers were not related to him by blood or marriage; and,
• The caregivers took an active part in the creation of Mr. Bailey’s new will.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR AND WHO TO WATCH:
• Caregivers, caretakers, therapists, and handymen
• Religious persons such as pastors, preachers or those who convey that a testator’s place in heaven depends on the disposition of his monetary assets to a religious denomination or organization
• Distant relatives who were never close to the decedent who suddenly become interested in the decedent’s affairs
• Long lost “friends” who suddenly or suspiciously come into the testator’s life
• Persons who have quasi-intimate dealings with the decedent such as a former employee or employer, cosmetologist, banker, hairdresser, chauffer, body guard, fitness, rehabilitation or other such instructors or service providers
• The retaining of a new attorney or changing of attorneys (especially one picked or used by the person exerting undue influence)
• Any other persons or parties who are new to the testator’s life or that are acting in a different or unusual fashion
As a family member, or caring individual of a loved one, you have the ability under Georgia state law, and through other legal avenues, to seek legal assistance for anyone you feel could be, or has been, a victim of elder abuse. Our Firm encourages you to fight financial predators or other persons who seek illegal or unjust financial gain by exerting unwarranted influence or taking advantage of another’s weaknesses. The Libby Law Firm represents individuals and families seeking to bring to justice anyone who engages in unwarranted activity to the detriment of the lawful beneficiaries or heirs. Our Firm diligently and aggressively represents clients in probate and estate disputes and litigation involving wills, powers of attorney, or other legal documents.
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