Bad Actor Tagged Twice

By Doug Chalgian on December 3, 2023

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The Players

Brohl is an old man in a senior living complex.  Until shortly before his death, he had about $233,000 in the bank.  He’s dead now and the other two players, Thon and Woodcock, are fighting over the money.

The case identifies Thon as being “apparently” a stepchild of a deceased sibling.

Woodcock claims no familial connection.

The Events

Thon steps in first and “helps” Brohl get his money into a bank account that is jointly titled with her.

Woodcock claims that when he came along, Brohl was complaining about the way Thon was managing his money.  And so, Woodcock “helps” Brohl get Woodcock appointed as his agent under a durable financial power of attorney. Then, using the FPOA, Woodcock sets up an account in Brohl’s name and with Woodcock’s listed on the account as Brohl’s FPOA.  Woodcock then moves the money from the account that is joint with Thon to this new account.

But not for long. The day after moving $233,000 into the newly created account, Woodcock moves substantially all the money into an account in his name individually.

Five days later Brohl dies.

Thon sues Woodcock for conversion.  They settle that case.  Woodcock pays Thon some of the money he got from Brohl.

But then, a few weeks later, Thon petitions to open an estate for Brohl, so that, as personal representative, she can sue Woodcock again to recover $233,000 misappropriated from the estate (although it’s unclear how Thon believes the money recovered by the estate comes back to her).

In any event, the trial court opens the estate, but appoints a lawyer as PR, not Thon. PR sues Woodcock and obtains a money judgement for the $233,000 he got from Brohl.

On Appeal

With a couple tweaks, the COA affirms the judgment against Woodcock.

Nothing earthshaking in the opinion, just a series of legal contortions offered by Woodcock as he attempts to avoid being tagged twice for the same missing money.

For instance:

– The COA holds that statements by Brohl about what he wanted done with his money are obviously admissible over a hearsay objection because they are expressions of his intent.

– The COA also holds that an agent acting under a FPOA is a “fiduciary” for the purposes of applying MCL 700.1214, notwithstanding the fact that the term “agent” is not included in the nonexclusive list of types of fiduciaries named in MCL 700.1301.

–  And maybe unfortunately, the COA avoids addressing the “Brohl told me to do it” defense, finding that the issue wasn’t properly preserved.

And so, we leave Woodcock in a difficult spot.  He has now spent legal fees settling the first case, has paid part of his ill-gotten gains to Thon as a settlement, and is now spending more on legal fees (including fees on this appeal), only to be told that he remains liable for the same money he was sued for in the first case.

Bad karma?

Bad lawyering?

A dose of both?

Perhaps

To read the unpublished opinion of In Re Estate of George Brohl, click here.

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mm By: Doug Chalgian
Doug Chalgian

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