Factors Court Will Consider in Undue Influence Claim – Rosenberg v. Sanders
It has been long-established Arizona case law that there are eight non-exclusive factors for a court to consider when the question of undue influence arises: (1) whether the person benefited by the deed made any fraudulent representations to the grantor; (2) whether the deed was hastily executed; (3) whether the execution was concealed from others; (4) whether the person benefited by the deed was active in securing its drafting and execution; (5) whether the deed as drawn was consistent with prior declarations of the grantor; (6) whether the deed was reasonable rather than unnatural in view of the grantor’s circumstances, attitudes and family; (7) whether the grantor was a person susceptible to undue influence; and (8) whether the grantor and the beneficiary were in a confidential relationship. In this latest case, the Court of Appeals has identified a ninth factor as “significant indicia” of undue influence; the decedent’s post-deed statements.
On May 31, 2022 (In re Rosenberg v. Sanders) the Arizona Court of Appeals, Div. One, held that a grantor’s alleged post-deed statements may provide relevant and admissible evidence of undue influence. This recent case involved a beneficiary deed. A beneficiary deed is voidable as the product of undue influence when signed by the grantor under the grantee’s undue influence. In this instance the Court of Appeals determined that the grantor’s statement to family and a hospital physician, made 14 months after he signed the deed, were relevant and should have been admissible evidence for the superior court at summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reasoned that direct evidence of undue influence is rarely available, forcing the parties to rely on circumstantial evidence. Given that, the court should accept a broad range of circumstantial evidence. In this instance, the grantor’s post-deed statements may have provided relevant and admissible evidence and should have been considered at summary judgment. When so considered, along with dueling medical evidence of the grantor’s earlier state of mind, the record had just enough evidence to create a factual dispute and defeat summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed the superior court’s entry of summary judgement and remanded the case for trial.
-Stephanie A. Bivens, Esq., CELA