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Estate should be divided equally among children, despite deceased mother adding only one child to her bank accounts

On remand from the Michigan Supreme Court, the court again affirmed the trial court's judgment for the plaintiffs following a bench trial, holding that they rebutted the presumption in MCL 487.703. The case arose from a dispute among siblings over the division of certain assets in their mother's (Dolores) estate. The court noted that the Supreme Court did not fault the trial court's factual findings or the court's review of those findings. "The facts as found support a conclusion that the statutory presumption in MCL 487.703 was overcome by reasonably clear and persuasive proof." Among the relevant findings were (1) plaintiffs "both testified that their parents always told them that all of the children would be treated equally;" (2) the inclusion of the now deceased sibling's (Kathleen) "name on the accounts was initially done at a time when no disharmony existed in the family; (3) Dolores had indicated that she 'trusted' Kathleen and, in conjunction with this statement," that the children's father (Leo) "had wanted joint accounts in order to avoid probate;" (4) the defendant (the PR of Kathleen's estate) testified that Kathleen had told plaintiff-Marlene "that there would be an equitable distribution of Dolores's property; (5) Kathleen had been less than forthcoming about the accounts, had lacked credibility in certain other respects, and had told Marlene that she 'maybe' would get half of the real estate even though Kathleen 'was a signatory to deeds conveying essentially all of Dolores's real estate to herself and Marlene;' (6) defendant testified that he believed that Kathleen had not spent any money from the accounts 'because it was Dolores's money;' and (7) Kathleen made statements indicating hesitation regarding whether she was meant to receive all the money from the accounts. Significantly, the inclusion of Kathleen's name on the accounts at a time when no disharmony existed in the family buttressed the evidence that this step was taken for the convenience of avoiding probate. It also buttressed the evidence that Dolores 'trusted' Kathleen." It was a reasonable inference "that Dolores 'trusted' Kathleen to fulfill the wishes of Dolores and Leo." Also, there was "evidence that Dolores and Leo wanted their children to be treated equally." Kathleen's "refusal to be forthcoming about the accounts and her statement that Marlene 'might' share equally in the real property," indicated that Kathleen "was less than credible and did not have a firm and honest belief that Leo and Dolores intended that she was to have all the funds in the accounts."

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