Fights over a loved one’s last wishes can be hostile, drawn-out, and incredibly common. What might be less common, however, is the negative effects that these probate battles can have on a beneficiary’s health.
Will contest, Code of Alabama (1975), §§ 43-8-190 & 199, are more common than you might think. As sad as it may seem, once the body turns cold, the actions of family members do as well. I have seen actions of family members that make me wonder of they even have a soul. the trauma and pain is unbearable.
Recently, in Montgomery County, in Caplan v. Benator, the Court of Civil Appeals addressed the jury’s assessment of damages when certain actions by beneficiaries to a will constituted negligence as to the health of another beneficiary. Rosalyn Caplan, a 93-year old woman, and Edgar Simon had been in a romantic relationship for 14 years.
They had lived in Simon’s house for 10 years before Simon’s death in 2015. According to Simon’s will, the house was bequeathed to Simon’s two children, with a special allowance for Caplan to remain in the home for 90 days after his death. Simon’s daughters were appointed executors of his estate. On the day of Simon’s death, his daughters asked for Caplan to return a joint credit card she and Caplan used. Four days later, Caplan’s son called Simon’s daughters to tell them they were not welcome to visit the house.
A number of incidents then ensued with the daughters coming to the house on several occasions. After the daughters came to the house on June 8, 2015, Caplan considered getting a restraining order. She had a heart attack two days later.
Her cardiologist testified that the daughters’ behavior combined with Simon’s death and Caplan’s imminent move led to her heart attack. Caplan sued the daughters for trespass, negligent breach of fiduciary duties, wanton breach of fiduciary duties, negligence, and wantonness. The trial court entered summary judgment on the trespass claims. The jury then returned a general verdict for Caplan on claims of negligence and negligent breach of fiduciary duties but only awarded her compensatory damages of $1. Caplan appealed.
According to Alabama law, once a defendant’s liability is determined, the jury must calculate the amount of damages sufficient to compensate the plaintiff for her contradicted damages. The Court of Civil Appeals reasoned that though the evidence proved negligence on behalf of the daughters, Caplan failed to show that these negligent actions caused her heart attack.
Caplan made an additional argument regarding the trespass charge. However, the will did not give her an exclusive right of possession over the home and the daughters were allowed to come and go. Caplan last argued that she should be allowed to know the communications between the daughters and their attorney as a “fiduciary exception;” however, Caplan never explained why. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
The key point from this case here is that in order to receive compensatory damages stemming from a negligence claim, you must prove to the court that the negligent act caused those damages. Because Caplan could not show that the daughters’ negligence was the direct cause of her heart attack, she was not entitled a substantial sum.
It is important to seek an experienced civil attorney who understands the realities of both Alabama civil and probate law. If you need a civil lawyer, contact INGRAM LAW LLC at (205) 656-0044 for help with your case.