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PROBATE 37: Can you get reimbursed from decedent for bills paid on their behalf before death?

This case arises from decedent’s sister paying bills on his behalf before his death and requesting reimbursement from his estate on the basis of either a contractual or unjust enrichment basis.

Unjust Enrichment Basis

The sister testified at trial, and provided account statements, receipts, and other documented proof of expenses that she paid on behalf of decedent from her own funds.

Although the sister had access to the joint account, she testified that the reimbursement was for bills she paid out of her own funds before she had access to that money. Additionally, the sister testified that, even after she had access to decedent’s funds, she continued to pay some of his expenses out of her own account. The sister noted that some of decedent’s bills were auto-paid from her account, and that she had not yet received paper checks from decedent’s account, causing her to have to pay from her own account, even after she had access to his funds.

Fraud Claim

Defendant argues that the sister committed fraud by asking for reimbursement for expenses from her own account, the trial court questioned the sister extensively regarding her use of her own account after she had access to decedent’s funds. The trial court also questioned the sister regarding her travel costs. The sister admitted that she was not clear on the total of the travel costs between a vacation that she took and her expenses to travel to decedent’s home. However, the sister only requested reimbursement for one of the flights and produced a receipt of her travel cost for trial. The trial court then found the sister’s payments were appropriate for reimbursement.

Defendant asserts that the sister committed intrinsic fraud on the trial court by misrepresenting the costs that she incurred on behalf of decedent. Defendant argues that the sister’s testimony and documentation amounted to intrinsic fraud on the trial court. However, defendant presented no factual proof to support this contention.

Defendant also argues that the sister did not prove the existence of an oral contract between her and decedent regarding the payment of his bills. The court held that oral contract principles did not apply, but that the trial court properly found that the sister was entitled to reimbursement.

Court Decision

The record reflects that the trial court used the sister’s testimony and documents, after questioning her thoroughly on the subject, to conclude that her payments were substantiated. The trial court found no fraud after engaging in a thorough examination of the evidence presented at the hearing.

The trial court granted judgment in favor of the sister.

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