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‘Til The Cows Come Home—A Parental Exploitation Story

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APRIL 14, 2008  VOLUME 15, NUMBER 42

We see the same sad story time and again. Sometimes there are small variations, but it almost always starts the same way. Aging parents (or other relatives) need assistance with their finances and their care. As those needs increase, family members begin — often with the very best of intentions — to provide assistance but end up taking advantage. The transition from loving support to financial exploitation is tragic and common.

At least that’s the way we’d like to think Gary and Sheila Taylor of Belton, Missouri, started out. When Mr. Taylor’s father sold his home in Pennsylvania and moved in with his son and daughter-in-law, it looks like everyone thought they would be providing care for him in their home. That was what the son apparently told his two sisters, anyway.

The elder Mr. Taylor had lived in Pennsylvania all his life. His second wife became seriously ill in 1997, and daughter-in-law Sheila Taylor traveled to his home to help out. He signed a new power of attorney naming Sheila as his agent. He added her name to two of his bank accounts in Pennsylvania. When his wife died, he and his son and daughter-in-law agreed it would be better if he moved to Missouri with them.

A few months later, bank accounts in Missouri bore father, son and daughter-in-law’s names. Gary and his father sent $10,000 checks to each of Gary’s sisters, with a note indicating that Mr. Taylor was trying to avoid the probate process. Then the elder Mr. Taylor suffered a stroke, and his care needs escalated.

While Mr. Taylor was still recuperating from his stroke, Sheila wrote a $7,100 check to pay off a credit card in her and Gary’s name. Then she and Gary decided to purchase a farm property and to build a new house on the property that would allow Mr. Taylor to move in. Mr. Taylor’s money paid for the property and construction — and also for a tractor, a utility vehicle and a herd of cows. All were in Gary and Sheila’s names, with no mention of Mr. Taylor’s contribution. Not too long thereafter, Gary and Sheila Taylor did some ironic estate planning of their own, transferring “their” assets into a revocable living trust.

Mr. Taylor ended up living on the farm he had purchased for about six months before going to a nursing home. When he died a few months later, there were no assets left in his name to go through the probate process. Almost $400,000 of money that had once belonged to him had gone into the farm, house, equipment and cows titled in Gary and Sheila’s revocable living trust. Mr. Taylor’s daughters sued, and argued that they should be entitled to a portion of the farm — and even of the cattle herd.

The Missouri Court of Appeals agreed. The appellate judges explained the legal notion of a “constructive trust”—and then ordered that the trial court conduct a new hearing to determine how much of the property belonged to Mr. Taylor’s daughters. Taylor-McDonald vs. Taylor, January 10, 2008.

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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.