West Case Update South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Taking Money from Senile Neighbor Is Breach of Fiduciary Duty and Theft
Description Connecticut high court held that the evidence supported a verdict that a neighbor took advantage of an elderly neighbor who was confused about her finances. The court held that the neighbor committed theft and breached her fiduciary duty not to abuse the trust of her neighbor.
Topic Wills, Estates, and Trusts
Key Words Estate; Executor; Fiduciary Duty; Breach; Undue Influence
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Williams' husband died in 1977. She lived alone and cared for herself until, at the age of 90, in 1994, she executed her will and gave her nephew, Howard, power of attorney. She left her estate to various charities and relatives. Her will did not mention defendant MacDonald, the daughter of a friend. Howard, noting Williams' deteriorating mental condition began to pay her bills. He estimated that she had about $300,000 in assets. In 1996, when Williams was in a hospital, it was noted that she had limited memory. MacDonald wrote a letter to Williams' bank ordering the transfer of all money to MacDonald. Howard discussed it with Williams, who was confused. Howard requested the Probate Court to appoint a conservator, which was done. The conservator determined that Williams liked MacDonald and "wanted to give her a gift" but did not understand what amount of money was involved. After Williams' death, Howard sued MacDonald to recover the funds she had received, accusing her of undue influence and breach of fiduciary duty. The jury held for Howard but the trial judge overturned the verdict in favor of MacDonald. Howard appealed.
Decision

Reversed. Sufficient evidence supported the jury verdict finding that MacDonald committed theft by convincing Williams to transfer property to her. Witnesses testified as to Williams' frail state of mind and poor memory. The jury reasonably concluded that MacDonald breached her fiduciary duty to Williams not to misuse her assets.

Citation Howard v. MacDonald, 851 A.2d 1142 (Sup. Ct., Conn., 2004)

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