Hanson v. Vanniewaal, 322 S.W.3d 574 (Mo. App. S.D. 2010)

Factual Background:

Pursuant to a will decedent executed two days before he died, his three daughters and his niece’s husband were named to share equally in the will.  The niece’s husband was appointed personal representative of the estate.  One of the daughters brought an action for discovery of assets against the personal representative, alleging that certain assets should belong to the estate, but were unlawfully obtained by the personal representative by fraud, undue influence, or decedent’s lack of capacity.  In part, she alleged that proceeds from two bank accounts owned by decedent were assets of the estate and had been adversely withheld by the personal representative.

Barry County Circuit Court, J. Woods, Held:

The circuit court found that the personal representative’s exercise of undue influence caused certain bank accounts to be created in the joint names of the decedent and the personal representative.  The court entered judgment in favor of the estate and against personal representative for $46,265.52.  The personal representative appealed.

Court of Appeals, P.J. Lynch, Held:

Affirmed.  The personal representative argues that the trial court’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence.  To prove that a court’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence requires completion of three steps: (1) identify a challenged factual proposition, the existence of which is necessary to sustain the judgment, (2) identify all of the favorable evidence in the record supporting the existence of that proposition, and (3) demonstrate why that favorable evidence, when considered along with the reasonable inferences drawn from that evidence, does not have probative force upon the proposition such that the trier of fact could not reasonably decide the existence of that proposition.  Instead of following these steps, the personal representative did the opposite:  he identified evidence favorable to his position and attempted to demonstrate why his evidence supports a judgment in his favor.  Because he did not fulfill the necessary steps, his point is denied.

Even assuming he did fulfill the steps, the court’s decision was supported by substantial evidence.  There was considerable evidence that decedent’s physical and mental condition deteriorated significantly in the last year of his life.  Evidence was presented that decedent was an alcoholic and that the personal representative knew he was an alcoholic; yet, the personal representative encouraged decedent’s drinking.  Also, there was evidence that decedent had represented that he wanted to leave his money to his daughters.  Taking this evidence into account, the court’s finding of undue influence was supported by substantial evidence.