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IN THE MATTER OF THE CONSERVATORSHIP OF ESTELLE KENDRICK, WARD GLADYS STAKELUM v. HANCOCK BANK

JANUARY 25, 1989

IN THE MATTER OF THE CONSERVATORSHIP OF ESTELLE KENDRICK, WARD GLADYS STAKELUM
v.
HANCOCK BANK, CONSERVATOR OF THE ESTATE OF ESTELLE KENDRICK



BEFORE DAN LEE, P.J., PRATHER and SULLIVAN, JJ.

SULLIVAN, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

Gladys Stakelum appeals an order of the Chancery Court, First Judicial District of Harrison County, requiring that she marshall the assets and provide an accounting to the Hancock County Bank, Conservator of the estate of Estelle Kendrick. In particular, the order specifies an accounting of all assets belonging to the ward, Estelle Kendrick, in which Stakelum may have received any joint interest or survivorship interest within six months prior to the admission of the ward to Miramar Nursing Home in Pass Christian, Mississippi, on or about July 20, 1985.

The chancellor found, among other things, that Mrs. Stakelum had a confidential and fiduciary relationship with

 Mrs. Kendrick and that for a period of six months prior to Mrs. Kendrick's admission to a nursing facility on or about July 20, 1985, the ward was incompetent and lacked capacity to understand the nature and effect of the various instruments executed by her. The chancellor further found that because there was a confidential, fiduciary relationship between Mrs. Stakelum and Mrs. Kendrick, the appellee had established a prima facie case of undue influence. Hence, the various joint assets owned by the ward and obtained by Mrs. Stakelum within the said six months period were the result of undue influence.

 Mrs. Stakelum has perfected this appeal and has assigned as error the lower court's adjudication on the issue of undue influence and the termination of her joint interest in the jointly held assets.

 The facts establish that the ward, Estelle Kendrick, was an elderly woman approximately eighty years of age when she was admitted to a nursing facility on or about July 20, 1985. For approximately one year prior to her admission to the nursing home she lived with and was cared for by her niece, Gladys Stakelum, in Bay St. Louis. Prior to that time, Mrs. Kendrick resided in a house in New Orleans, Louisiana in which she owned one-half interest; the other half interest being that of the niece, Stakelum, who derived her interest from her parents.

 Mrs. Kendrick came to live with Mrs. Stakelum sometime in 1984 following the death of her brother-in-law, Mrs. Stakelum's father. Mrs. Stakelum's father lived next door to Mrs. Kendrick and provided her with on-going assistance and care. Kendrick has for years suffered from a degenerative and disabling respiratory and bone condition.

 On April 2, 1985, Mrs. Stakelum took Mrs. Kendrick to an attorney's office in Covington, Louisiana, to prepare a special power of attorney to empower Stakelum to act as agent for Kendrick in the sale of the New Orleans house. After signing the power of attorney, Mrs. Kendrick agreed with Mrs. Stakelum to list the property with a real estate agent who was also the son of the attorney preparing said power of attorney. The following month the house sold and after expenses of sale Mrs. Kendrick and Mrs. Stakelum each received half of the proceeds, or $53,678.30. Immediately thereafter, on May 16, 1985, Mrs. Kendrick and Mrs. Stakelum opened a joint savings account at Peoples Federal Savings and Loan in Bay St. Louis. Mrs. Kendrick deposited her one-half proceeds from the sale of the New Orleans property into this account. None of Mrs. Stakelum's proceeds were deposited in this account. After some discussion among family members, on July 8, 1985, Mrs.

 Stakelum and Mrs. Kendrick opened another joint account with Dean Witter Reynolds in New Orleans. This joint account, which provided for full rights of survivorship, included $50,000 from the Peoples Federal Savings and Loan account in Bay St. Louis and $19,000 from another joint account between appellant and the ward at Homestead Security, an account opened by the ward and appellant in February of 1983 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

 During the time of the sale of the New Orleans property and creation of the joint account, Mrs. Kendrick was beginning to have difficulty with her asthma condition, was becoming hyperactive, and was having trouble sleeping. At times, she would become confused.

 Mrs. Stakelum took Mrs. Kendrick to their family doctor, Dr. Chevis, shortly after Kendrick moved to Bay St. Louis in 1984. He continued to care for Mrs. Kendrick during the next several months. By June of 1985, Mrs. Kendrick's physical condition had deteriorated to the point that Dr. Chevis determined she needed nursing home care. A local psychiatrist who examined Kendrick, Dr. Maggio, concurred with Dr. Chevis's opinion that Kendrick suffered from a degenerative organic brain syndrome. The prognosis was that Kendrick's declining mental condition was one of a gradual progressive type and she would not improve. The psychiatrist expressed his expert opinion that for a period of six months prior to his examination of Mrs. Kendrick in July of 1985, that she had memory deficits and was unable to exercise independent judgment.

 Upon the concurrence of two additional physicians as to Kendrick's physical condition, she was admitted to Miramar Nursing Home on or about July 20, 1985. Several months later, in October, Mrs. Kendrick's adoptive niece, Mary Louise Paniello, brought an action to appoint a conservator for her aunt. Mrs. Stakelum joined in this petition and Hancock County Bank was appointed as conservator of Kendrick's estate.

 It was at this point that Hancock County Bank requested Mrs. Stakelum to turn over all the assets of Mrs. Kendrick, including a copy of her will and all jointly held accounts. Mrs. Stakelum responded by petitioning the court to remove Hancock County Bank as conservator and requesting that she be appointed conservator. Mrs. Stakelum maintained that she should not have to relinquish her right of survivorship in the jointly held assets simply because Hancock County Bank's policy would not permit it to administer a ...


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