A Confidential Relationship Existed, But There Was No Undue Influence Of The Decedent By His Daughter

Anthony F. Cordasco and his wife, Louise, were living in a condominium when Louise became ill in late 2012. The Cordascos decided to sell the condominium and move in with their daughter, Roseann Altiero, who agreed to care for Louise. Anthony and Louise signed a listing agreement in January 2013 and placed the condominium on the market. Louise died in February 2013.

Soon after Louise’s death, Anthony met with his attorney, John Bellush, who had represented the Cordascos in their original acquisition of the condominium. Bellush also represented Roseann and her husband on several real estate and business matters through the years. Bellush later described Anthony as being in clear control of his own mind and well aware of the transaction he wanted to make. Although Roseann had driven her father to the meeting, Bellush stated she was not present during his discussions with Anthony. Thereafter, Bellush prepared a deed by which Anthony transferred the condominium to his daughter Roseann for $1.

Although ownership had changed, the condominium remained on the market. The closing occurred in May 2013. The net sales proceeds, totaling $160,000, were deposited into a joint account owned by Roseann and her husband.

Anthony passed away. His son, also named Anthony, did not learn of the inter vivos transfer of the condominium to his sister until after their father’s death. He contended decedent told him he received a “good profit” on the unit, and the sales proceeds were deposited in decedent’s own bank account. Anthony testified his parents had often stated that upon their deaths, all of their assets would be equally divided between Anthony and Roseann.

Anthony instituted a lawsuit, seeking appointment as administrator of decedent’s estate and an order invalidating the inter vivos transfer of a condominium unit to Anthony’s sister, decedent’s daughter, Roseann Altiero.

After trial, the judge found that a confidential relationship existed between Roseann and decedent. The judge noted the close relationship between Roseann and her parents, which included: vacationing together, having twice-weekly dinners with one another, and residing with each other for several periods through the years. Roseann paid for Louise’s funeral expenses, and after decedent moved in with her, Roseann was responsible for all of her father’s food, shelter, and everyday needs.

On the other hand, the trial judge found there was no relationship or communication between Anthony and Roseann and very little communication between Anthony and his parents. The communication between Anthony and his father continued to decrease after decedent moved in with Roseann.

Having found that a confidential relationship existed between Roseann and decedent, the court shifted the burden of proof to Roseann to demonstrate, by clear and convincing evidence, that she did not unduly influence decedent to transfer the condominium to her. The judge found Roseann met her burden, stating: “She has proved clearly and convincingly . . . there was no deception of her father . . . there was no undue influence. . . . [D]ecedent well understood what he was doing.” As a result, judgment was entered in favor of Roseann.

Decedent’s son Anthony appealed. The appeals court affirmed, holding that a confidential relationship existed between Roseann and decedent, but there was no evidence of undue influence in the transfer of the condominium.

The appeals court reasoned as follows: “[After Louise’s death,] it was then obvious that [decedent] would be the one living with the daughter and she would have expenses, the funeral, and lasting expenses that she would incur taking care of him. And it is not unreasonable that he would convey the property to her so that she would have the benefit of the sale.”

The case is attached here – In the Matter of the Estate of Cordasco

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