The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling involving the estate of a deceased Cowley County woman, saying the plaintiff provided enough evidence that she had signed a transfer-on-death deed at the woman’s direction.
According to court documents, the late Roxie Moore, of Winfield, directed her former daughter in law, Maureen Miles, to sign a deed on her behalf transferring some of her land holdings to Moore’s two grandsons, the children of Miles and Moore’s son, Harvey Moore Jr. Roxie Moore had earlier executed a durable power of attorney naming Miles as her attorney-in-fact. Witnesses reported hearing Moore ask Miles to sign the documents on her behalf, which Miles did. Roxie Moore died on Sept. 15, 2009. Miles and her husband executed a warranty deed on Nov. 7, 2012 transferring the property to her and Harvey Moore Jr.’s two sons, Bart Moore and Ryan Moore.
Harvey Moore Jr. filed a petition on June 11, 2014 in Cowley County District Court for determination of descent, asserting that his mother’s estate consisted of the land in Cowley County. His sons filed a response asserting that the property had passed to them under the transfer-on-death deed, and therefore was not part of their grandmother’s estate. Harvey Moore Jr. then filed a motion for summary judgement. The respondents, including Miles and their two sons, filed a response and a counter motion for summary judgement.
The district court initially ruled in Harvey Moore Jr.’s favor, with their decision based on the conclusion that an attorney-in-fact cannot use the power of attorney to benefit themselves. The respondents filed a motion to reconsider, arguing that Miles hadn’t signed the deed in her capacity as attorney-in-fact, but as an amanuensis, or one whose agency relationship with a person is limited to accurately transcribing words or signatures at their direction.
The district court granted the respondents’ motion and set the matter for trial. Following a full evidentiary hearing, the court granted judgement in favor of the respondents. The Kansas Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, which was then taken up for review by the Kansas Supreme Court.
The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the Cowley County District Court and Court of Appeals judgements, saying Miles provided enough evidence to demonstrate that she signed the transfer-on-death deed at Roxie Moore’s direction and as her amanuensis, which is allowed under Kansas law.
“Maureen presented clear and convincing evidence rebutting a presumption that she exercised undue influence over Roxie, and Harvey failed to sustain his burden of proving a lack of testamentary capacity,” the justices wrote.
The ruling was released Sept. 6. Justice Eric Rosen wrote for the Supreme Court majority. Justice Caleb Stegall wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing with the application of amanuensis law to this case and the principal holdings, but criticizing the majority’s interpretation of the law of agency as it might be applied in other cases.
Justice Lee Johnson dissented, arguing that the Kansas statutory scheme does not allow an amanuensis to sign transfer-on-death deeds, and cautioning against the opportunity for fraudulent transfers under the majority’s holdings.
The Kansas Supreme Court's opinion can be viewed at http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/SupCt/2019/20190906/115628.pdf.