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PROBATE 22: Deed set aside due to constructive trust.

In this case, the probate court removed the son as his mother’s co-guardian because he was blocking then 93-year-old’s interactions with other family members. After the court’s order, the son remained as co-conservator and exerted control over his mother’s real estate as she had previously signed a quitclaim deed naming her son as a joint tenant with full rights of survivorship. The son used this interest to evict other relatives from The mother’s home. He then made repairs and secured paying tenants.

As the mother’s co-conservator, the son was required to file accounts explaining the use of The mother’s assets. Throughout the proceedings, the son did not timely file these accounts, leading to court intervention.

After learning of the son’s interference with his mother’s family relationships, the court scrutinized his later accounts more closely and found them overly generic, lacking in supporting documentation, and mathematically inaccurate. The court therefore denied the son’s request for fees for his services. The court decided to end the conservatorship on October 28, 2016. The court also ordered the son be removed as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy intended to cover the mother’s funeral expenses, an order to which the son agreed. The court also rejected the son’s explanation that he had loaned his mother money to stay afloat and repaid himself by using his mother’s credit to purchase furnishings for his own home.

During these proceedings, several petitions seeking to set aside the deed were filed.

At an evidentiary hearing, the mother testified that she executed the deed because her son was trustworthy and honest. She explained that he had performed various repairs to the home so that it could be rented. The mother further explained that her intent was to have her son split the home among all of her children when she passed away. However, it became apparent during these proceedings that the son intended to keep the home for himself.

The probate court cited three grounds to set aside the quitclaim deed: (1) The mother mistakenly believed that her son would follow her wishes after her death and share the home with all of her children; (2) the equitable remedy of a constructive trust, and (3) the son’s breach of fiduciary duty by accepting the quitclaim deed while he served as the mother’s power of attorney.

A constructive trust is the formula through which the conscience of equity finds expression. When property has been acquired in such circumstances that the holder of the legal title may not, in good conscience, retain the beneficial interest, equity converts him into a trustee.

The probate court properly imposed a constructive trust and ordered the son to sell the mother’s home after she had deceased.

Aldrich Legal Services represents clients in a wide range of probate litigation matters. Given the emotional nature of these disputes and their financial impact on all involved, it is critical that anyone involved in such a dispute retain highly qualified legal counsel.

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