Trusts and Estates

Robinson v. Gutierrez

Cite as C097301
Filed December 26, 2023
Third District

By Michelle Barnett Batista
Aaron, Riechert, Carpol & Riffle, APC

Headnote:  Financial Elder Abuse – Care Custodian Presumption

Summary:  Caregiver that received free room and board in exchange for care services qualified as a care custodian and the decedentā€™s donative gift to her was subject to presumption of fraud or undue influence.

Gutierrez moved in with decedent and provided care services in exchange for free room and board.  A few years later, decedent executed an estate plan naming Gutierrez as trustee and sole beneficiary.  Decedent died 10 days later.  Decedentā€™s heirs petitioned the probate court to determine the validity of decedentā€™s estate plan and alleged that Gutierrez committed elder financial abuse and undue influence.  The trial court denied the heirsā€™ petition on the ground that Gutierrezā€™s receipt of free room and board did not constitute ā€œremunerationā€ for purposes of the care custodian presumption because room and board did not constitute taxable income.  Decedentā€™s heirs appealed.

The appellate court reversed.  There is no indication that the Legislature intended remuneration to be limited to taxable income, which means gross income or adjusted gross income less allowable deductions.  Rather, interpreting remuneration to include room and board is consistent with the termā€™s ordinary usage, the legislative intent to protect vulnerable adults from financial abuse, and the courtā€™s interpretation of remuneration in employment-related cases.  Further, it is a settled rule of statutory construction that where exceptions to a general rule are specified by statute, other exceptions are not to be implied or presumed.  Had the Legislature intended to exclude room and board from being considered as remuneration, it would likely have listed room and board as an additional exception.

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