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Where the parent is aged, infirm, or otherwise in a condition of dependence on a child, and the child occupies a corresponding relation of authority, conveyances conferring benefits upon the child may be set aside, but cases of this kind plainly turn upon the exercise of actual undue influence, and not upon any presumption of invalidity. Where undue influence and incompetency do not appear, and the relation between the parties is not one ordinarily known as confidential in law, the evidence to sustain such relation must be certain; it cannot arise from suspicion or from infrequent or unrelated acts; care must be used not to confound acts springing from natural love and affection with confidential relations, and, while the line of demarcation may in some cases be narrow, nevertheless, to sustain the integrity of gifts based on such affection in family relations, it is necessary that the distinction should exist. Dependency does not necessarily beget a confidential relation; indeed, it may be quite the reverse. To establish a confidential relation it should appear that a confidence or trust was reposed in the child, occupying a position of supervision, authority and general direction over the parent's business affairs, and, unless such a relation is established, the burden of proof to establish the essentials of a valid gift as defined is not shifted to the child.
Claimant son presented for allowance in the court two notes aggregating the sum of $6,500 against the estate of his mother, Christena Null. The gift was made when Null was eighty-seven years of age, although she was still in possession of mental and physical vigor. The trial court disallowed the notes, holding that the claimant son failed to prove that his mother acted voluntarily, deliberately, or that she knew what she was doing. The claimant appealed.
Was there evidence of incompetency, undue influence or a confidential relation which would justify the disallowance of the notes?
The court reversed and held that there was no evidence of incompetency, undue influence, or a confidential relation. Decedent, though 87 years of age when the gift was made, possessed unusual mental and physical vigor. She died a little less than 10 years thereafter and was described as being alert with above average intelligence. Moreover, she was not sought after by her son, but rather went to see him for the special purpose of giving him the notes. After the decedent's other children had declined to take over her farm, she asked him to come live on the farm. An agreement was made whereby the parents consented to sell to the son a certain part of the land at $ 45 an acre, with further provision that support would be furnished them during the remainder of their lives. There was no evidence that the land was worth more than $ 45 an acre. The son moved onto the farm and made valuable improvements on it. There was no contention that the contract was not faithfully complied with. Lastly, although the son transacted her business, she had asked him to do so and there was very little business to transact by which to infer a confidential relationship.