Ayers v. Shaffer

286 Va. 212



Several particular classes of relationships that may give rise to a presumption of undue influence. Among them is when one person is an agent for the other. Undeniably, one such relationship is that between a principal and a person authorized to act as her agent and attorney-in-fact. Importantly, in such cases, the presumption of undue influence will arise independently of any evidence of actual fraud, or of any limitations of age or capacity in the other party to the confidential relationship, and is intended to protect the other party from the influence


The plaintiffs were great grandchildren and legatees to one half of their great grandmother’s residuary estate under a will. The defendants were Ms. Wingo, Ms. Shaffer, Mr. Shaffer, and their son Mike Shaffer. The decedent had nominated Ms. Shaffer, her neighbor, as her executrix. When the decedent passed, the plaintiffs claimed that their great grandmother’s estate was depleted when she was in a “strong confidential relationship” with her neighbor, and that her neighbor had influenced her to enter into contracts and change survivorship and beneficiary designations which personally benefited the neighbor. Ms. Shaffer claimed that she never acted on behalf of the decedent, but solely owed fiduciary duties to her.



Did the circuit court err in sustaining a demurrer to a complaint alleging certain inter vivos financial transfers were the result of undue influence exercised by persons in confidential relationships with the decedent?




The circuit court erred in ruling that no confidential relationship could arise between the decedent and her caretaker solely because the caretaker may not have exercised her powers under the durable power of attorney with respect to the challenged transactions. The court also declared that the claims of breach of a “duty as an agent on a joint bank account” were sufficiently alleged because the caretaker, her husband, and the decedent’s sister were co-owners on accounts with the decedent for which the decedent provided all the funds, and had the burden to rebut the presumption the transactions were the result of undue influence.


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