Rosenberg v. Sanders – 5/31/2022

August 3, 2022

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that a grantor’s statements made after executing a beneficiary deed may provide relevant, admissible evidence of undue influence.

A man executed a beneficiary deed leaving his home and investment property to his domestic partner of nearly a decade.  When he was hospitalized the following year, however, the man told his sister and niece that he feared his partner and asked them to help him keep the partner from stealing his assets.  He made similar statements to the hospital psychiatrist prior to his discharge.  He died a few months later.

Following the man’s death, his niece, to whom the properties had previously been deeded, filed a probate action in superior court.  The niece then sued to void the deed leaving the properties to the partner, alleging that the partner had unduly influenced the deed’s execution.  The superior court granted summary judgment for the partner, and the niece appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.  It held that a grantor’s statements made after a deed’s execution may provide relevant, admissible evidence of undue influence.  Although the eight factors listed in In re McCauley’s Estate, 101 Ariz. 8 (1966), do not include grantor statements among the “significant indicia” of undue influence, the Court determined that “the McCauley factors are not exclusive” and added such statements as “a ninth factor.”  The superior court accordingly erred by failing to consider the man’s statements which, together with his potential susceptibility to undue influence, “barely frame[d] a material question of disputed fact.”

Judge Weinzweig authored the opinion; Judge Swann and Judge McMurdie joined.

Posted by: Matthew Stanford