Flowers v. Siefer (In re Estate of Flowers), No. L–16–1002

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Writing for the CourtPIETRYKOWSKI, J.
Citation2017 Ohio 1310,88 N.E.3d 599
Parties IN RE ESTATE OF Virginia FLOWERS Dennis Dean Flowers, et al., Appellee v. Joseph E. Siefer, et al., Appellants
Docket NumberNo. L–16–1002
Decision Date07 April 2017

88 N.E.3d 599
2017 Ohio 1310

IN RE ESTATE OF Virginia FLOWERS

Dennis Dean Flowers, et al., Appellee
v.
Joseph E. Siefer, et al., Appellants

No. L–16–1002

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, Lucas County.

Decided: April 7, 2017


Kevin A. Heban, R. Kent Murphree, Toledo, and John P. Lewandowski, Rossford, for appellee.

John M. Carey and Jared J. Lefevre, Toledo, for appellants.

DECISION AND JUDGMENT

PIETRYKOWSKI, J.

{¶ 1} Appellants, Joseph E. Siefer, the brother of Virginia Flowers, deceased, and Cheri Fosnaught Pittman, Jerrie Fosnaught, and Mari Fosnaught Dutko, the daughters of Flowers, appeal from the October 29, 2015 judgment of the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, Probate Division, finding Flowers lacked testamentary capacity to change her beneficiary designation on July 6, 2010,1 and that the change was due to undue influence. The trial court also denied the counterclaims of appellants to remove appellee, Dennis Dean Flowers, as executor of Flowers' estate and impose sanctions. For the reasons which follow, we affirm.

{¶ 2} On appeal, appellants assert the following assignments of error:

I. The trial court erred by admitting the opinions of non-testifying treating physicians into evidence.

II. The trial court erred by admitting the unreliable expert testimony of Thomas G. Sherman, M.D.

III. The trial court erred by admitting the testimony of Travis Rasor, M.D. as expert opinion on capacity.

IV. The trial court erred by admitting the testimony of Daniel K. Watkins as expert opinion on capacity.

V. The trial court's judgment was not supported by sufficient evidence at trial.

VI. The trial court's judgment was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

VII. The trial court erred by denying defendant's motion for new trial.

{¶ 3} Appellee brought suit as executor of the estate of Flowers against appellants and Edward Jones. In its October 29, 2015 judgment entry, the trial court narrowed the issues in the case to Flowers' capacity as of July 6, 2010, the date she changed her beneficiary designation for the funds held in an Edward Jones account from appellee to her daughters. The court also considered whether Flowers was susceptible to undue influence at that time.

{¶ 4} Following a trial to the bench, the probate court found that Flowers had suffered from a loss of mental capacity for some time prior to her move to Ohio, which was also most likely the cause of her loss of employment in 2007. The court found the expert opinions of Dr. Rasor and Dr. Watkins to be extremely compelling because they had actually examined Flowers near the time she executed the beneficiary designation. Therefore, the court

88 N.E.3d 605

held Flowers lacked the testamentary capacity as of July 6, 2010, to execute the change in beneficiary designation. The court further found Flowers' sudden change of beneficiary after coming to Ohio was inconsistent with her years of supporting appellee in opposition to her family and her prior testamentary acts. Thus the court found that her decision was due to undue influence. The court voided the change of beneficiary designation.

Summary of Trial Testimony

{¶ 5} Flowers was trained as a nurse and married in Ohio before moving to South Carolina in the mid–1980s where she eventually became a head surgery nurse. Her daughters described their childhood and their relationship with their mother as typical. After her husband was killed in a work accident in 1993, Flowers received a structured settlement, which was placed in an Edward Jones account.

{¶ 6} In 1996, appellee met Flowers when he began working under her supervision. Flowers' children did not initially object to appellee, but they later questioned whether appellee was interfering with the relationship with their mother and was the cause of her irrational behavior. In March 1998, prior to Flowers' marriage to appellee on May 3, 1998, appellee sued two of the daughters, Mari Jo and Cheri, for defamation and obtained a civil protection order. The suit was settled when the parties apologized to each other in court. Afterward, however, the relationship between the mother and her daughters deteriorated. Mari Jo moved in with Cheri and the daughters stayed away from their mother and appellee.

{¶ 7} After appellee and Flowers were married, appellee quit his job and they lived off Flowers' income. After Flowers lost her job sometime between 2006 and 2008,2 they lived off monthly withdrawals from her Edward Jones account. Appellee testified Flowers was close to his family and they spent time with them instead of her daughters. Flowers executed a will on December 4, 2007, naming appellee as the sole beneficiary and his nieces as alternate beneficiaries.

{¶ 8} The extended family had always visited Flowers on a semi-annual or annual basis and continued to do so after she married appellee. During those visits, the family avoided talking about Flowers' relationship with appellee, although they observed that appellee was loud, demeaning, and abusive toward Flowers and she was afraid of him.

{¶ 9} From 1998 until 2010, the youngest daughter, Mari Jo, maintained some contact with her mother. However, shortly after Flowers lost her job at the hospital, she reconnected with her daughters and Flowers babysat for Cheri and corresponded with Jerri and Mari Jo who lived out of town. Their relationships deteriorated again, however, in 2007 during a family visit when Cheri discovered marijuana drying in a room over the garage and confronted Flowers and appellee in front of the entire family. Flowers asked Cheri to leave while appellee was standing over her. That was the last time the daughters saw their mother before she returned to Ohio in April 2010.

{¶ 10} Appellee testified Flowers did not show any signs of dementia prior to being "released" from her job for an unknown reason. She took a job at a nursing home facility as a charge nurse for a time, but no evidence was presented as to when she quit working altogether. Appellee testified

88 N.E.3d 606

that sometime in 2008, after Flowers' brother died in an automobile accident, Flowers no longer wanted to drive and he sold her car.

{¶ 11} In mid–2009, appellee noticed Flowers started to repeat herself and forget things. She spoke about her deceased brothers as if they were still alive. She had told appellee she did not like doctors, so he never took her to a doctor to be evaluated. Joseph Siefer testified that he saw Flowers for a week in 2009. At that time, she was exhibiting some cognitive problems with her memory. He did not feel comfortable riding with her driving a car. He recalled telling appellee it was time he worked and supported Flowers and got her some medical assistance. Flowers told Siefer she woke up one morning in 2009 and could not see, speak, or move. She later recovered, but her left side was affected.

{¶ 12} At the beginning of 2010, appellee testified he started to monitor Flowers' diet and hygiene because she would forget to eat, bathe, or wear clean clothes. She could no longer drive, cook, or clean. She spent the day playing with her dog, exercising, and helping with yard work. He handled all the family finances. Because she would get confused very easily and become disoriented, he applied to the Social Security Administration for Flowers on April 4, 2010, but the psychological examination to determine her competency was never completed.

{¶ 13} While appellee was on a camping trip to Florida from April 16 to 18, 2010, his mother took Flowers to the hospital because she was found wandering in the yard. Afterward, appellee's mother called the Siefers to pick up Flowers because Flowers wanted to go to Ohio. Appellee did not believe that Flowers had the mental capacity as of April 27, 2010, to make the decision of where to live. Her brothers, however, thought Flowers' mental state was about the same as when they had seen her in 2009. Siefer believed she improved after moving back to Ohio, until she began to decline from mid–2011 until her death in February 2012. They testified that her condition improved when she became more assured she would not return to live with appellee. Each time Flowers saw appellee, however, they observed she would become worse.

{¶ 14} In April 2010, appellee attempted to have the local police help him see Flowers. After meeting with Siefer and Flowers, who indicated that she did not want to see appellee, the police told appellee the family agreed to meet appellee with a lawyer present. Appellee did not want to meet without his own lawyer, so he returned to South Carolina and began legal proceedings there.

{¶ 15} Over the next two months, Siefer sought medical treatment for Flowers because of her memory issues. He did not believe a guardianship was necessary because the only issue at that time was with her memory. Siefer took Flowers to the local Edward Jones office to transfer her account to Ohio. She indicated to Siefer she wanted her children to have her assets, not appellee. She repeated this statement to each of her daughters who testified they did not raise the issue with her. The daughters also testified that Flowers apologized about how she had treated her daughters and allowed their relationship to fall apart and sought to reconcile with them.

{¶ 16}...

To continue reading

Request your trial
10 practice notes
  • Taylor v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., Court of Appeals No. E-18-036
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • April 24, 2020
    ...to the issue of whether appellee's negligence caused, in whole or in part, appellant's tinnitus. In re Estate of Flowers, 2017-Ohio-1310, 88 N.E.3d 599, ¶ 83 (6th Dist.). As previously noted, unlike in Cutlip, the jury in this case determined appellee was not negligent. We will not disturb ......
  • Ayer v. Morenz-Harbinger, APPEAL NO. C-190687
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • December 23, 2020
    ...making of the will, as well as a reasonable time before and after, is relevant and admissible. In re Estate of Flowers, 2017-Ohio-1310, 88 N.E.3d 599, ¶ 73 (6th Dist.); In re Estate of Marsh, 2d Dist. Greene No. 2010 CA 78, 2011-Ohio-5554, ¶ 18. {¶56} Courts have held that a testator had te......
  • Penn Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Camilly, Case No. 1:18 CV 460
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • September 20, 2019
    ...of a person's mental and physical condition a reasonable time before and/or at the time of the testamentary act. Flowers v. Siefer , 88 N.E.3d 599, 618 (Ohio Ct. App. 6th Dist. 2017). To prove a contract is voidable on the ground that a party lacked the mental capacity to enter into it, the......
  • Stanek v. Stanek, Appellate Case No. 2018-CA-39
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • July 12, 2019
    ...can also be used as a standard for mental capacity to execute a beneficiary designation." In re Estate of Flowers, 2017-Ohio-1310, 88 N.E.3d 599, ¶ 84 (6th Dist.), citing Schiavoni v. Roy, 9th Dist. Medina No. 11CA0108-M, 2012-Ohio-4435, ¶ 17, and Rogers v. Frayer, 11th Dist. Geauga No......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
10 cases
  • Taylor v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., Court of Appeals No. E-18-036
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • April 24, 2020
    ...to the issue of whether appellee's negligence caused, in whole or in part, appellant's tinnitus. In re Estate of Flowers, 2017-Ohio-1310, 88 N.E.3d 599, ¶ 83 (6th Dist.). As previously noted, unlike in Cutlip, the jury in this case determined appellee was not negligent. We will not disturb ......
  • Ayer v. Morenz-Harbinger, APPEAL NO. C-190687
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • December 23, 2020
    ...making of the will, as well as a reasonable time before and after, is relevant and admissible. In re Estate of Flowers, 2017-Ohio-1310, 88 N.E.3d 599, ¶ 73 (6th Dist.); In re Estate of Marsh, 2d Dist. Greene No. 2010 CA 78, 2011-Ohio-5554, ¶ 18. {¶56} Courts have held that a testator had te......
  • Penn Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Camilly, Case No. 1:18 CV 460
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • September 20, 2019
    ...of a person's mental and physical condition a reasonable time before and/or at the time of the testamentary act. Flowers v. Siefer , 88 N.E.3d 599, 618 (Ohio Ct. App. 6th Dist. 2017). To prove a contract is voidable on the ground that a party lacked the mental capacity to enter into it, the......
  • Stanek v. Stanek, Appellate Case No. 2018-CA-39
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • July 12, 2019
    ...can also be used as a standard for mental capacity to execute a beneficiary designation." In re Estate of Flowers, 2017-Ohio-1310, 88 N.E.3d 599, ¶ 84 (6th Dist.), citing Schiavoni v. Roy, 9th Dist. Medina No. 11CA0108-M, 2012-Ohio-4435, ¶ 17, and Rogers v. Frayer, 11th Dist. Geauga No......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT