A local man and his then-wife used undue influence on his elderly mother to clean out the woman’s bank accounts before she passed away, a Schenectady County Surrogate’s Court ruled this week.
The verdict, in a case brought by the woman’s two other sons, means the man and his ex-wife must return an estimated $120,000 to the woman’s estate, said Gerard Parisi, attorney for the two other sons.
However, Steve Kouray, attorney for the now ex-wife, Tracey Nealon, said an appeal is expected. Her ex-husband Peter Nealon represented himself.
The case also marked a “very rare” example of an estate case making it to a jury trial, Parisi said. Surrogate’s Court Judge Vincent Versaci presided over the proceedings.
At issue was whether Peter and Tracey Nealon used undue influence on his mother, Muriel Nealon, to clean out her bank accounts.
She moved in with Peter Nealon in September 2002 after being diagnosed with the beginning stages of dementia. She also suffered from bouts of forgetfulness and confusion, according to earlier court paperwork.
Brothers Christopher and William Nealon alleged undue influence by Peter and Tracey Nealon, saying they used the money to put an addition on a house that included a large master bedroom for themselves as well as a bedroom and handicapped-accessible bathroom for his mother.
But Peter and Tracey Nealon claimed that the money comprised gifts and Muriel Nealon wanted to pay her share of expenses and pay for her own medication.
Kouray argued Friday that the jury couldn’t hear the explanation behind ATM withdrawals under a rule aimed at preventing false claims from being made against estates.
Kouray also argued that a ruling made during the trial shifted the burden of proof to his side, essentially making Tracey Nealon and Peter Nealon have to prove the transactions were legitimate.
“How can I explain when I can’t get into what led up to it?” Kouray said.
Gifts for Peter and Tracey Nealon’s wedding were found legitimate, attorneys said.
Peter Nealon could not be reached for comment.
The expected appeal would take the case to the Appellate Division, where it has been before.
The case was originally thrown out by then-Surrogate’s Court Judge Barry Kramer. But the Appellate Division restored it in a December 2008 decision.
Christopher Nealon, the executor of his mother’s estate, said he decided to appeal the decision because he believed that was what his mother would have done.
Muriel Nealon died in May 2004 at the age of 81. She worked as a secretary in the Schenectady County courts, retiring in 1987. Her husband, James Nealon, died in 2001. They had been married for more than 50 years.
“It was a long time coming,” Christopher Nealon said of the verdict. “I’m glad it’s behind us.”
In the trial, the ruling that changed the burden of proof to Tracey Nealon and Peter Nealon centered around the court finding that they had a relationship of trust, that Muriel Nealon was dependant on them.
“That’s really a good law because it protects someone in that position from being taken advantage of,” he said.