UNJUST ENRICHMENT ElementsPosted by BS - 10/06/10 at 12:06 pm
Estate of Anderson, 2010 ME 10, 988 A.2d 977, Gorman, J.
This is a probate case involving claims of a decedent’s son, who lived with the decedent and took care of her, to part of her estate as compensation for his services and to the proceeds of joint bank accounts which he held with her. The Law Court vacated the Probate Court’s judgment awarding the joint accounts to the Estate.
The basis for the Probate Court’s decision was that the mother’s will stated that the joint bank accounts should go into the Estate rather than to the petitioner. The Probate Court’s conclusion that the will controlled was incorrect as a matter of law. Joint bank accounts with the right of survivorship go to the survivor, and that disposition cannot be changed by a later will because the will does not represent the intent of the testator at the time that the accounts were opened. In order for the proceeds of a joint bank account not to be inherited by the survivor, there must be clear and convincing evidence of a different intention at the time the account was created.
The Court affirmed the Probate Court’s decision against the petitioner on the issue of unjust enrichment. The Probate Court held that, although the petitioner conferred a benefit on the decedent and the decedent appreciated and had knowledge of the benefit, the petitioner failed to persuade the trial court that he was entitled to compensation from the Estate. The Probate Court found that conferring the benefit did not require compensation nor would compensating the son result in injustice, and the Law Court affirmed these findings.
The Law Court noted that the Probate Court used incorrect elements of unjust enrichment which came from “a secondary source.” Nonetheless, the Law Court said that the Probate Court reached the correct result. Its factual findings demonstrated that the petitioner failed to establish the elements of unjust enrichment set out by the Court in its previous case law. The Court noted that the case law, rather than the secondary source, controlled.