Master Rejects Contention that Land Transfers Resulted from Undue Influence

Delaware Fiduciary Litigation Blog

Posted September 23, 2013

Cecil W. Scott v. Roland E. Scott C.A. No. 6604-MA (September 13, 2013)

Following a contested guardianship proceeding, whereby the ward’s (“Cecil”) brother (“Roland”) sought to be Cecil’s primary guardian, Cecil’s sister (“Dinah”) filed a complaint against Roland, seeking to set aside certain land conveyances from Cecil to Roland. Dinah alleged that at that time Cecil lacked capacity and was unduly influenced by Roland because Cecil had just undergone heart surgery and a transient ischemic attack, and was a chronic paranoid schizophrenic. The Master, in her final report, reaffirmed Delaware’s longstanding law that adults are presumed to have contractual capacity and that the burden is on the party alleging incapacity. The Master then applied the routine capacity challenge standard (i.e., that Dinah must show that Cecil was incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the transaction or that he was so mentally impaired the he was unable to properly, intelligently and fairly protect and preserve his property rights) and the five elements of undue influence ((1) a susceptible grantor; (2) the opportunity to exert influence; (3) a disposition to do so for an improper purpose; (4) the actual exertion of such influence; and (5) a result demonstrating its effect). The Master concluded that there was no evidence that Cecil was incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the transaction or that he was mentally impaired at the time of the transaction. The Master further held that Dinah failed to demonstrate any disposition on Roland’s part to exert his influence for an improper purpose because, in part, Roland had spent the last sixteen years taking care of Cecil. The Master also reaffirmed that undue influence is not established if the evidence discloses one or more plausible alternative explanations for the testator’s change of beneficiaries or, as in this case, for the grantor’s conveyance of the properties.

Author(s)

Phillip Giordano
Associate
Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella, P.A.
William M. Kelleher, Director
Director
Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella, P.A.