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Matter of M.N.


NY Slip Op 02473


This hearing was made pursuant to Mental Hygiene Law Article 81. The purpose was to appoint guardians to a person and property for Mr. & Mrs. D, who appealed a previous decision whereby the Petitioners had successfully requested to set aside a deed from July 19, 2013 because of undue influence and incompetence, and to declare the judgment void.

The appeal is dismissed. The judgment is affirmed.

The court said that this appeal must be dismissed because the right to appeal was terminated when the judgment was entered (Matter of Aho 39 NY2d 241,248). The particular issues that were raised in appeal are brought for review (CPLR 5501 [a][1].

The deed in question showed a 50% ownership interest in a property to his stepson. Shortly thereafter, 2 of his biological children M&H N. filed a proceeding to be appointed as co-guardians. At the hearing, it was confirmed that R. had dementia. It was later established that the man was indeed incapacitated and coguardians were appointed. After this, the petitioners moved to set aside the property conveyance on the grounds of undue influence and incompetence. The court determined that R. was indeed incompetent at the time of the time of the conveyance.

On 2/9/15, the court agreed with the petitioners and found that they had proven through clear and convincing evidence that R. was incompetent when the property was transferred, therefore the deed was void.

The court said that as a general rule, a party is presumed mentally sound. In order to prove lack of capacity, it must be proven that the party did not understand the nature of the transaction when the conveyance was made (Buckley v. Ritchie Knop, Inc. 40 AD3d 794; Feider v. Feider 151 AD2d 889). Suffering from dementia alone does not improve incapacity (Matter of Lee 294 AD2d 366). Rather, it must be shown that the person was incompetent at the time the conveyance was made. It must be proven that the illness affected them to the degree that they did not understand the nature of the transaction.

In this case, it was established that the person had a major vascular cognitive disorder and dementia which rendered him incompetent. The appellant did not present any evidence to counter this.

In order for a document to be declared invalid for undue influence, there must be some evidence that the type of influence used amounted to moral coercion, which prevented free agency and independent action, which could not be resisted. The person must have been too weak to resist. However, where there is a confidential relationship, the burden will shift to the beneficiary to prove that the transaction was fair (Matter of Boatwright 114 AD3d 856). To show a confidential relationship, it must be proven that there are issues present that demonstrate a controlling influence (Matter of Bonczyk v Williams 119 AD3d 1124; Matter of Nealon 104 AD3d 1088).

In this case, the appellant took care of R. 24 hours a day and was completely reliant on his caregivers. Therefore, a confidential relationship was established (Peters v Nicotera 28 AD2d 969). Then the burden shifts to the appellants. They failed to show that there wasn’t any undue influence. The court found that the appellant’s evidence to be contradictory. There is no basis here for the court to disturb the previous decision. The court had properly determined that the deed was invalid.

If you have a probate matter or need legal advice regarding a will or trust, contact the legal team at Stephen Bilkis and Associates. They have locations to serve you throughout New York, including the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan, Queens, Nassau County, Suffolk County and Westchester County. Call today to schedule a free consultation at 1-800-NYNYLAW.

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