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Hadley v. Cowan

January 28, 1991

LISA ANN HADLEY, ET AL, APPELLANTS,
v.
BERNADETTE COWAN, ET AL, RESPONDENTS



Forrest, J. Grosse, C.j., and Deierlein, J. Pro Tem., concur.

Author: Forrest

Robert and Lisa Hadley appeal the trial court's summary judgment dismissing their tort action against respondents. We affirm.

This dispute involves three generations in one family, with two grandchildren suing their maternal grandmother and aunts*fn1 over issues arising out of the last will of their mother, Claudette M. Hadley.

Claudette and Richard Hadley married in 1964; within a year Claudette developed multiple sclerosis. Claudette bore two children, Robert and Lisa, appellants here. In January 1975, the Hadleys separated, and Claudette moved in with her mother, Bernadette Cowan. Richard Hadley filed for divorce, a trial was held, and a decree of dissolution entered on June 16, 1976. The court awarded Richard Hadley custody of the two minor children because Claudette's physical disabilities prevented her from taking adequate care of the children, although the court found that "Claudette possesses the necessary moral and intellectual qualifications to have custody of the minor children of the parties". Claudette received approximately $545,000 plus $480,000 in maintenance at $4,000 a month for 10 years.*fn2

According to Richard Hadley, as Claudette's health deteriorated, her mother, Bernadette, began exerting more influence over her, controlling the times that Claudette could meet with her children, for example, and strongly discouraging contact with the outside world. After dissolution of the Hadleys' marriage, on June 22, 1976, Claudette executed her last will, superseding earlier wills that had been more generous to her children, and less generous to her mother and sisters.

Nine years later, on September 24, 1985, Claudette died, and her will was admitted to probate October 3, 1985. Bequests included $50,000 in trust for each of her two children, $50,000 to her mother, and $25,000 each to her two

sisters. The balance of the estate was left in trust with the net income to go to her mother for life, then to her sisters (the appellants' aunts) in equal shares, with no additional bequest to the appellants' trusts. The trustee was empowered to distribute principle if the mother or sisters needed funds for their welfare.

Following admission of the will to probate, the appellants filed a petition in February 1986 contesting the will, alleging that Claudette was infirm and not of sound mind at the time the will was executed. On June 16, 1986, the appellants agreed to settle and dismiss their will contest in exchange for a $30,000 contribution into each child's trust. The settlement, after reciting relevant provisions of the contested will, provided that:

1. The Children shall dismiss with prejudice their Petition pending in the Superior Court of the State of Washington for King County under Cause No. 85-4-03411-0.

2. The Children acknowledge that the Will is valid and binding in all respects.

3. All parties shall endeavor to foster the close and loving relationship that exists between the Children and the Legatees and further that each will use all reasonable efforts with others to cause such others to refrain from, in any manner or form, disrupting such relationship.

5. The children confirm their intent in all respects that the Will as executed by their mother be finally adjudicated and not disturbed.

6. The parties agree to sign and have entered an order of dismissal finally dismissing with prejudice the Will contest filed on February 5, 1986.

Proposed settlement language, purposefully left out of the settlement agreement, stated:

(1) That the will contestants agree that Claudette Hadley was not mentally incompetent at the time of the execution of the Will;

(2) That there exists no case against any of the beneficiaries for any influence that the beneficiaries are alleged to have exerted over Mrs. Hadley . . . .

James Salter, attorney at the time for the Children, stated that he had discussed this ...


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