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Payments In Annulment Case End With Death of Ex-Husband

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JULY 22, 2002 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 3

Late-life marriages, of course, are usually unions of love—even when entered into by widows and widowers with families from earlier marriages. The strains on family relationships can be severe, but love can conquer all. Sometimes, though, late marriages can be the product of manipulation and overreaching by one of the spouses. While there is little empirical data to indicate any change, it seems increasingly common that mildly (or even severely) demented seniors are drawn into marriages with (often younger) caretakers, opportunists or even, sometimes, well-meaning but self-interested acquaintances. A recent Illinois case explored the aftermath of such a relationship.

John R. Lundahl and Elizabeth Gabel were married in Florida in August, 1988. By 1989, Mr. Lundahl had become so incapacitated that a guardian had been appointed to make both personal and financial decisions for him. His guardian sued to have the marriage annulled, arguing that Mr. Lundahl had actually been incapacitated at the time of the marriage, even though no court order had been entered to that effect.

After a year of negotiations Ms. Gabel agreed that the marriage could be annulled, but on the condition that Mr. Lundahl’s guardian pay her $1,700 per month for the rest of her life. Payments began in July of that year.

After Mr. Lundahl died in June, 2000, the question arose whether his probate estate was liable for continued payments for the rest of Ms. Gabel’s life. She argued that the agreement clearly required lifetime payments, and that it was akin to the property settlement agreement that might have been entered had the couple gotten a divorce. The probate court agreed and ordered that the payments continue.

The Illinois Court of Appeals disagreed. Annulment of the marriage, said the appellate court, was a judicial declaration that the marriage never existed, not that a valid marriage was ended. Since no marriage ever existed the settlement agreement should be judged according to general contract principles rather than the standards applied in divorce cases. Even if marital settlement agreement principles were applied the payments should end, the court decided.

Public policy considerations, said the judges, required that any intention to extend liability after the death of one party to a contract should be clearly expressed in the contract itself. Although this agreement was to continue for the rest of Ms. Gabel’s “natural life,” it was silent about what would happen on the death of Mr. Lundahl, the other party to the agreement. In the absence of clear language, Mr. Lundahl’s estate was not liable, and the payments to Ms. Gable ended on his death. Estate of Lundahl, July 16, 2002.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.