Posted on: May 20, 2016
You may have seen the article on the Eva Rova Barnes estate – an estate case that was very recently settled by our Supreme Court. The decision was widely reported (you can read the San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage here).
Simply put, the Rova family have owned a 46-acre homestead on Puget Sound since 1918. Eva lived on the property since she was 3, she survived her husband and daughter, died in 2011 just a few weeks shy of her 95th birthday. Her closest living relatives are her nieces and nephews. It looks like she did some planning, though I’m unsure of the extent of it. One thing that comes across loud and clear and often is that Eva Barnes wanted to live out her life on her property.
It appears that Eva had a good relationship with her nieces and nephews, she also bonded with her mailwoman, some combination of them teamed up to watch over Eva. Things seemed to be going well.
Then, in 2009, Eva fell in her kitchen. She was on the floor for two days before the mailwoman/caretaker found her and called an ambulance. After that, things got complicated. It appears the family wanted her to go to a nursing home. The one thing Eva had been adamantly against, seemingly forever.
One thing led to another, the family distanced themselves or were forced away, depending on who’s telling the story, from Eva. Her mailwoman became her primary caretaker – though she continued to work for the Post Office and was married with a family of her own.
Shortly before her death, Eva changed her will and left almost everything to the mailwoman. The family sued. After almost five years of litigation the Washington Supreme Court ruled in favor of the family, saying the mailwoman had exerted undue influence over Eva.
There is, of course, a lot more to it, the article captures some of it, but I’m sure the various court pleadings flesh it out even more, and I’m dead certain the depositions are fascinating.
But, I take something else away from all this, I see it as a failure to communicate and, therefore, a failure to properly plan.
The one thing – one thing – everyone on both sides of this agrees on is that Eva was fiercely independent and strong-willed. There was never a chance she was ever going to go to a nursing home, everyone should have realized that.
It appears, though, that there wasn’t much communication, and that probably goes back to when she executed her original will.
Part of the problem here is, I expect, that the family thought of Elder Law Planning as revolving around assisted living facilities.
That’s wrong – good Elder Planning revolves around living a rich, full life after retirement.
Eva being home for the rest of her life could have been planned for, that might have mitigated her accident.
Good Planning requires great communication. Between family members first, then with the attorney.
It’s Elder Law Month, time for family members to talk with one another.