Beneficiary Deed Can Be Challenged If Undue Influence

Question: For the last twenty years my mother has lived in a nice home in the Tatum Ranch community in North Phoenix. We live in Flagstaff, but have come down regularly to visit my mother. My sister lives in Tucson but rarely has visited my mother. My mother was in relatively good health at 91 years of age. Two weeks ago, however, she unexpectedly passed away. My mother’s only asset was her “free and clear” Tatum Ranch home worth $780,000. At a meeting with my sister yesterday, my sister produced a beneficiary deed recorded a month ago from my mother to my sister for the Tatum Ranch home. We were shocked, as we have always taken care of my mother for medical visits, home repairs, grocery shopping, etc. We obviously should have been more proactive re estate planning, but we assumed that the ownership of the Tatum Ranch home would be split 50/50 with my sister, which was fine with us. We definitely think that my sister “persuaded” my mother to sign the beneficiary deed, and my mother was too afraid and embarrassed to say anything to us. Is there anything that we can do now?

Answer: Probably. An Arizona court will look at eight different factors to help determine whether a beneficiary deed was procured through undue influence:

  1. Did your sister make fraudulent representations to your mom?
  2. Was the execution of the beneficiary deed the product of hasty action? (In other words, did your sister act quickly to get this done)
  3. Was the execution of the beneficiary deed concealed from you?
  4. Was your sister active in securing the beneficiary deed’s drafting and execution?
  5. Was your mom always planned on deeding the Tatum Ranch property to your sister? (In other words, can you prove that your mom planned on splitting ownership of the Tatum Ranch 50/50 before your sister’s involvement)
  6. Was the execution of the beneficiary deed reasonable considering your mom’s circumstances and her attitude towards your family?
  7. Was your mom susceptible to undue influence?
  8. Was your sister in a confidential relationship with your mother?

You should consult a lawyer, as you should have the right to “set aside” the transfer of the Tatum Ranch to your sister, if you and your sister cannot agree on the distribution of sale proceeds of the Tatum Ranch home.

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