John, a widower, sold his St. Louis business and retired to his 500-acre farm in mid-Missouri. Soon after, he met Wilma, who moved in. From the beginning, their relationship was chaotic. When John asked her to leave, she became infuriated. The sheriff had to remove her forcefully. However, Wilma was not out of John’s life.
John’s farm was vested in his Revocable Living Trust. He was the trustee. David, one of his kids who lived out of state, traveled to the farm on weekends to help his dad. When John’s doctor told him that he had early signs of dementia he asked David to replace him as the trustee. David agreed. John’s attorney prepared an amendment to the trust, and John signed. David was now the trustee, but he always discussed business with John before making decisions. He continued to help on the farm every other weekend.
As time passed, David and his three siblings noticed their dad’s mental and physical condition declining. They were concerned about him living alone on the farm. They suggested that he move back to the St. Louis area to be close to family and friends, but he refused. So, a search began for a live-in caregiver.
Less than a week passed when John called David. John had found someone. It was Wilma! David reminded his dad of the previous experience with Wilma. But John argued that Wilma had changed.
John was adamant, and the decision was definitive. But, Wilma had specific demands. She required a generous salary, a credit card, and unlimited use of all vehicles. Furthermore, if John died during her employment, she would receive $30,000 severance pay and free use of the home for 12 months. His dad was steadfast in hiring Wilma. Plus, there were no other prospective caregivers available. David reluctantly agreed to her terms. Wilma moved in.
It did not take long until Wilma was in control of more than John’s health care. She isolated John from his children and grandchildren. When a family member called, John would not be available to talk. And if they announced an upcoming visit, she and John would not be home. On the occasions when they arrived unannounced, John was asleep and could not be disturbed.
While John was seldom available to the family, Wilma was always in contact with David by email or telephone. And she was vicious. She accused David of secretly trying to place John in a nursing home and cheating him out of his money. As David would later learn, Wilma made the calls when his dad could hear Wilma’s side of the telephone conversation.
She would even harangue David when he made the biweekly trips to the farm. He wanted to terminate her, but where would he find a replacement? And his dad was unwavering. He would not leave the farm.
I was not aware of Wilma or her history when David listed the 70 acres of the 500 acres. The sale proceeds were to pay off $110,000 loan and provide living expenses for his dad.
Within three months, the 70 acres were under contract for $230,000. The sale contract was contingent on the buyer obtaining a loan, which he did. Then, one week before closing, I received a phone call. The caller said her name was Wilma, John’s nurse. She had something important to tell me that would affect the land sale.
Wilma said that John wanted the sale to close but did not want David to get the money. John had hired a lawyer to replace David with himself as trustee. John would be signing the sale documents at closing. I asked if David was aware of this. Wilma said no and asked that I not tell him.
Since David was my client, I called him immediately. David was puzzled. The amendment John had signed, making David trustee, could not be changed without David’s approval. Furthermore, he had just talked to his dad that morning, and all had seemed okay. He commented, “It has to be Wilma’s idea.” Then David told me of Wilma’s past.
I suggested to David that I meet with Wilma and John. Perhaps I could reason with them and allow the sale to close as scheduled. David wished me luck and warned that I had never met a person like Wilma. When I called, Wilma agreed to meet up the next morning at the farm.
When I arrived, a short, stocky, middle-aged woman opened the door. She introduced herself as Wilma, with an emphasis on being a nurse. John recognized me from years earlier and gave a friendly smile and greeting. I began with small talk and asked Wilma where she had gotten her nursing degree. Wrong question! Her demeanor changed immediately. Pointing a finger at me, she angrily shouted that all the nursing training she needed was working with other older adults. Enough with the small talk!
Quickly, we moved to the subject at hand. Wilma slammed down a copy of a page from the trust amendment on the kitchen table. The screaming began as she thrust a stubby finger to a line on the page. She declared that the “wording” in the amendment proved that John could remove David as a trustee at any time, and that was what their lawyer was going to do. I turned to John, who was sitting quietly in the living room and asked, “Is this what you want to do?” In a weak response, John replied, “I don’t know what to do.” Wilma shrieked, “Don’t you remember those phone calls when David was trying to put you in a nursing home?” John seemed to wilt as Wilma took over. She continued.
“David wasn’t paying the bills!” she shrieked! When I asked what bills were not paid, she changed the subject. “David will keep all the money from the sale!” she shouted. I explained that the title company was required to pay off the present $110,000 loan, pay all closing costs, and pay the remainder to John’s trust. And her retort: “None of the money would go to the trust or the lender. The title company and David are in a scheme to steal John’s money!”
I tried to reason with Wilma, but with no success. I thanked them, and, as I exited the home, she slammed the door behind me. David had warned me, but not enough!
Two days later, an attorney filed the motion for a preliminary injunction to remove David as trustee. Both John and Wilma were the plaintiffs in the directive. The title company would not close the sale because of the
injunction. The order also stipulated that $10,000 from the trust be paid immediately to John. David sent a check from the trust account. He later learned the check was cashed but not deposited into John’s account.
David’s attorney believed the Judge would dismiss the injunction. But the day before the hearing, John and Wilma’s attorney withdrew from the case with the Judge’s approval. John and Wilma needed a new attorney.
The sale would not close on the date intended. The buyer could either back out or agree to close the sale at a future date. He now was having second thoughts. The coffee shop gossip purported that John didn’t want to sell. Also, the commitment from the lender to grant the loan would expire in less than two weeks. No loan meant he could not buy the land.
I convinced the buyer that the rumors were false. Next, I suggested he ask for an extension of the loan commitment. The lender agreed to a sixty-day extension. Now we hoped that Wilma and John would hire an attorney soon. However, three weeks passed, and they had not. Also, Wilma would not return my phone calls. I decided to make an unannounced visit to the farm.
I knocked and stood at John’s front door for several minutes. When I knocked the second time, the curtain in the living room window moved slightly, and I saw a pair of eyes peeking at me. I waited a few more minutes then knocked again. Finally, Wilma opened and stood in the middle of the doorway. “We’re not signing nothing!” was her first comment. She blocked my entrance until a friendly voice from another room invited me in. It was John.
I asked if they had hired a new attorney. (I learned later that two attorneys had refused to represent them.) Wilma angrily responded that they were harassed so much that they did not have time to find a lawyer. I asked who was harassing them. She shoved her stubby finger in my chest and said, “You!” She continued. “John couldn’t meet with an attorney because he has been in the hospital due of the stress.” I turned to John and asked when he had been in the hospital. Before Wilma could stop his answer, he blurted out that he had never been in the hospital. Wilma shrieked and asked why he was lying. I asked John how he was doing, and he quietly muttered, “I just want the shouting to stop.” An angry Wilma ordered me to leave.
Two weeks later, John and Wilma’s new attorney called David’s attorney. The new lawyer claimed that one word in the amendment to the trust appointing David as trustee created an ambiguity. Additionally, John would testify that he appointed David as trustee under duress. And once the court ruled in their favor, John would revoke the trust and have total control of his holding.
David’s attorney countered that the wording in the amendment was very distinct. Furthermore, John had signed the agreement under his own free will and without duress. David’s lawyer hinted that when the court ruled in David’s favor, Wilma would be fired and receive no severance. Without daily nursing care, John would have to move back to St. Louis.
But neither attorney could assure their clients of a favorable ruling by the court, and the cash for John’s living expenses was nearly depleted. So, a few days before the loan commitment was to expire, the attorneys negotiated an agreement verbally acceptable by all, including the title company. David, John, and Wilma would all three sign the deed. The preliminary injunction to determine the trustee would be settled later. David signed the agreement, but two days before closing, Wilma refused to sign unless she received $10,000 at the closing. David agreed.
On the day of the closing, Wilma and John arrived at the title company early, signed the agreement and deed, and received a check of $10,000 made payable to both. Almost 90 days after the initially scheduled closing date, the property sold.
A few weeks later, the settlement regarding the trustee was agreed upon. David, Wilma, and a third person appointed by the court would be the trustees; however, these three trustees were short lived. John died eight months later and all of his assets including the farm were distributed to the family as directed in the trust. In the end Wilma received $30,000 as severance, moved, never to be heard from again.
The attorney fees and court costs were more than $45,000, all paid by the trust. Ironically, John’s trust paid to sue itself and paid to defend itself.