In re: Estate of Melba V. Toast
BLS443 Aaron Minc Joe Cesta 05/30/07
Melba v. Toast lived in an apartment building that was managed by Chris K. Coe. During 2000, Toast’s health started to deteriorate, and she eventually began to call on Coe for assistance in her daily affairs. By 2002, Toast’s health had deteriorated to the point where she could no longer take care of herself. Coe arranged for her to move into his apartment. Except for a brief stay in a nursing home, Toast lived in Coe’s apartment until her death. During her stay, she met many of Coe’s relatives. On July 26th, 2002 two days before her death, Toast stated that she realized she was dying and asked Coe to write down her wishes for the disposition of her assets. She directed that Coe receive her stocks and bonds, worth $235,000 and that Coe’s relatives receive her bank accounts, worth $354,000. The stock certificates, bonds and bank statements were located in a dresser in the Coe apartment. Later, it was discovered that Toast had prepared a will several years earlier in which she left one half of her estate to her sister and the other half to the sister’s adopted nephew. Evidence showed that once, when Toast received a letter from the adopted nephew demanding his inheritance, she stated “He won’t get a dime from me.” The will was admitted to probate. Which prevails, Watson’s gift letter or the old will? Opinions by, Justice Minc Justice Cesta Regarding the facts above, there are several issues to consider when determining whether the gift letter or old will, will prevail in the distribution of the estate of Melba V. Toast. According to Ohio General Code § 10504-3 (RC § 2107.03), a valid and effective will must comply with certain definite formalities and once a will is “made” in the manner provided in RC § 2107.03, it remains a will unless and until it is revoked by one of the means provided in RC §2107.33: In re Nash, 50 Ohio Misc. 4, 361 N.E.2d 558 (CP 1976). In this situation Melba Toast has a legally valid will but, two day before her death she states that she “realized she was dying” and “asked Coe to write down her wishes for the disposition of her assets.” One of the first issues to consider is whether this situation is an inter-vivos transfer (“gifting”) of assets or an oral will. How should one classify a
gift made by someone two days before they die? One argument would be that the situation might comprise an oral will. This is supported by ORC Ann. 2107.60 (2006) § 2107.60 wherein, “An oral will, made in the last days of sickness, shall be valid in respect to personal estate if reduced to writing.” However, because the facts of the case explicitly ask whether Watson’s “gift letter or old will prevail”, and the situation occurred prior to Melba Toast’s death, this court will assume that there is no other will of any type present besides the “old will.” Another issue is that even if the court considers this to be a valid inter-vivos transfer, do the beneficiaries of the will have the right to attack transfers which the decedent made while alive. Accordingly, Ohio law provides that, “action may be brought in the probate court to determine the validity of inter-vivos transfers where the property transferred would revert to the estate if the transfers are invalidated: State ex rel. Lipinski v. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, 74 Ohio St. 3d 19, 655 N.E.2d 1303, 1995 Ohio LEXIS 2190, 1995 Ohio 96, (1995). Therefore Melba’s relative can legally take action. In order for Melba’s gift to qualify as a valid inter-vivos transfer it must satisfy three requirements: intent, delivery, and acceptance. Turning to the first requirement, the donor must intend to make an immediate transfer of ownership to the donee. See, e.g., Gruen v. Gruen, 496 N.E.2d 869 (N.Y. 1986). The statements and actions of the donor usually provide the best evidence of intent. There are two pieces of significant evidence which are indicative Melba Toast’s true intentions: (1) When Melba once received a letter from her adopted nephew demanding his inheritance, she stated “He won’t get a dime from me” and (2) realizing she was about to die, Melba wrote a gift letter before her
death gifting her stocks, bonds, and bank accounts in her estate to Coe and his relatives. These two pieces of evidence indicate that there is clear and conducive reason to believe that Melba Toast voluntarily and intentional gave these assets to Coe and relatives as a gift before she passed. The second requirement is delivery, for which there are three main methods to deliever: traditional or manual delivery, where the item is physically transferred from donor to donee, constructive delivery, which occurs when the donor physically transfers to the donee the means of obtaining access to and control over the object (like a key to a safe), and symbolic delivery, physically transferring to the donee an object that represents or symbolizes the object. The facts of this case show that Melba Toast had a land owner and tenant relationship with Mr. Coe, Melba’s health deteriorated to the point where Mr. Coe was taking care of Melba’s daily affairs, Melba had moved in to Coe’s apartment, and kept her stock certificates, bonds, and bank accounts located in a dresser in Coe’s apartment. The facts show that delivery of the gift was symbolic and somewhat traditional. Coe has written evidence that indicates that Melba intended to deliver her assets as gifts to Coe and his relatives. Furthermore, because the assets were already located in Coe’s dresser, the delivery was instantaneous whereas Coe already had possession of the assets. Therefore, the requirement for delivery of the gift has been met. Finally, the donee must accept the gift. This court will presume acceptance of a gift that is unconditional and valuable to the donee. There is no evidence to suggest that Coe or his relatives would not have accepted this gift from Melba Toast.
Seeing as all three requirements to validate an inter-vivos gift have been met, it is the opinion of this court that Melba Toast’s transfer of assets to Chris K. Coe on July 26, 2002 constitute a legally effective inter-vivos gift. Since Melba Toast gave away the assets she left to her relatives in her will as inter-vivos gifts to Coe and his relative, the assets were no longer apart of Melba’s estate when she passed away and therefore her will would be ineffective in showing claim to the assets. JUDGEMENT DENIED The Court orders in favor of Chris K. Coe and his relative and instructs they retain control over the assets formally owned by Melba Toast.