Posted June 8, 2018 in Estate Planning by Michael Lonich.

Giving gifts to loved ones late in life is a meaningful way to make family and friends feel cherished. Gifts of real estate to family and friends may show appreciation, but a gift of real estate made late in life to a family member or caretaker can raise several red flags. Is the donor susceptible to fraud or undue influence by the recipient of the gift? Does the donor have sufficient mental capacity to make the gift? To address these red flags, courts require certain documentation or evidence if a gift is contested.

One of the court’s primary concerns regarding gifts from adults late in life is whether the gift was influenced by fraud or undue influence, especially when gifts are given to people who have close relationships with the adult. Therefore, California law requires courts to apply a legal presumption – an assumption that any gift from a dependent adult (person over 65 who is unable to provide for his or her personal needs) to a “care custodian” was the product of fraud or undue influence. (Cal. Prob. Code, § 21380.)

A “care custodian” is a person who provides health or social services to a dependent adult. A “care custodian” is not someone who provided services to a dependent adult if the custodian had a personal relationship with the dependent adult at least 90 days before providing health or social services, at least 6 months before the dependent adult’s death, and before the dependent adult was admitted to hospice care if he/she was admitted.  (Cal. Prob. Code, § 21362.)  The person in favor of the gift can rebut, or oppose, the presumption of fraud or undue influence with evidence that the gift was not the product of fraud or undue influence.  (Cal. Prob. Code, § 21380.)

Courts will not assume the gift is a product of fraud or undue influence if a “certificate of independent review” is executed with the transfer. A certificate of independent review shows the court that an independent attorney consulted with the person making the gift about the nature and consequences of the gift and attempted to determine if the intended gift was the result of fraud or undue influence. This consultation must occur out of the presence of the any heirs or proposed recipients. The certificate is signed and given to the person making the gift.

The court will not assume the donor’s family members and cohabitants received gifts from a dependent adult by fraud or influence. (Cal. Prob. Code , § 21382.)  However, gifts to family members and cohabitants will be invalid if the family member or cohabitant drafted the transfer document themselves. Family members and cohabitants are also subject to claims that the donor’s gift was subject to fraud or undue influence. (Cal. Prob. Code, § 6104.) They may also be subject to a claim that the donor did not have sufficient mental capacity to make the gift.

To prove undue influence, one must show the donor acted under excessive persuasion that overcame his/her free will. In California, the court will assume undue influence occurred if the party contesting the gift can prove three elements: (1) the existence of a confidential or fiduciary relationship between the donor and the person allegedly asserting undue influence over the donor, (2) active participation by the alleged influencer in the creation of the transfer document, and (3) an undue benefit on the alleged influencer (typically the receipt of the gift).

A gift may also be contested on the basis of the donor’s lack of mental capacity at the time the gift was made. The court can consider testimony and documentation showing the donor may or may not have been mentally competent to make the gift while alive.

Gift of real estate to family members and caretakers can be complicated and raise red flags that the donor, recipient, or other family members did not intend to face. If you are contemplating giving a gift to a family member or caretaker, receiving a gift from a family member, or contesting a gift to a donor’s family member or caretaker, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich Patton Erlich Policastri. We offer a free half-hour consultations.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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