Cavitch shareholder Max Dehn recently prosecuted a lawsuit to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars wrongfully taken from an Ohio family. This is a summary of the family’s story. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the parties.
Ohio Farmer Builds Wealth Through Investing & Smart Living
John was an elderly farmer who lived alone with his mother, Ingrid, in the rich farmlands of central Ohio. John and his mother were proud and accomplished people. Their family had farmed for generations and had built up substantial wealth through hard work, smart investing, and modest living. John’s children had long ago moved to distant parts of the country. In many ways, John and his mother were also best friends. Each day when John returned from the fields, his mother prepared his dinner, and they would often play dominoes into the evening. But as they aged, John and Ingrid became more isolated and more vulnerable to being taken advantage of.
“Friend” of Wealthy Farmer Hires Caregivers
John had a “friend,” Betty, who was much younger than John, but with whom he had once been romantically involved. As John reached his mid-seventies, he and Ingrid both began to decline. As Ingrid’s decline deepened, John struggled to care for her himself. Increasingly, John turned to Betty, who began to care for Ingrid while John farmed. As Ingrid worsened, Betty and her daughter Estelle hired a team of caregivers to provide round-the-clock care to Ingrid during the last year of her life.
“Friends” Take Over Finances, Writing Checks to Themselves
Betty and Estelle also began to manage Ingrid and John’s joint bank account. They wrote large checks on behalf of Ingrid, even after Ingrid was incompetent to understand her finances. Many of these checks, often in excess of $10,000, were written to Betty and Estelle each month. John complained to social workers that he had lost control of the situation, but he also wanted to avoid placing Ingrid in a nursing home. In the end, he felt trapped and unable to re-claim control from Betty and Estelle.
Purposely Isolating Wealthy Farmer from Family
In the year before Ingrid’s passing, visiting family members began to sense something was amiss. At first, they noticed Betty was always present, making a great show of her purported love and affection for Ingrid and John. But Ingrid and John seemed increasingly withdrawn and quiet in Betty’s presence. Moreover, there was evidence that Betty was working to cause rifts between Ingrid and John and their family. During one visit, Ingrid’s daughter had an uncomfortable conversation with Betty regarding missing family heirloom items. Later, Ingrid’s daughter was devastated when Ingrid told her in a phone call that she was no longer welcome in her home. During the call, Ingrid’s daughter could hear Betty whispering to Ingrid, seemingly telling her what to say.
Family Questions Estate Executor Firing Multiple Attorneys
Ingrid died in 2014, and John passed away two years later. After John’s passing, the family engaged Cavitch to review bank records. Cavitch discovered that Betty and Estelle had received nearly $500,000 in checks for purported caretaking services provided to John and Ingrid over the period of a few years. In addition, John had named Betty as a beneficiary of his estate, and also named her estate executor. Betty’s conduct as executor immediately raised concerns. Among other questionable actions, Betty fired three attorneys within months of assuming the role of executor.
Concealment Action Allows Family to Recover Property Wrongfully Taken
With evidence of theft and misconduct, Cavitch filed a “concealment action” against Betty and Estelle, a will contest, and a motion to remove Betty as executor. A concealment action is a proceeding by which a family can retrieve money and property wrongfully taken from an estate. The matter is governed by O.R.C. 2109.50. After a one-week trial, a jury found Betty and Estelle guilty of concealing assets from both John and Ingrid’s bank accounts. Shortly thereafter, the parties settled the entire dispute and the family recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars from Betty and Estelle.
Legal Counsel Enables Families to Uncover Wrongdoing
This is a great result that required determined effort by the family and their attorney. The most important takeaway — if a family believes that something is amiss, it is important to discuss the matter with legal counsel as soon as possible. A careful examination of the relevant facts may reveal wrongdoing and enable the family to recover what has been improperly taken.
For some related posts check out Warning Signs of Financial Abuse: What to Look For