[This article was originally published on December 17, 2003. The links were updated on August 23, 2018.]
A Tennessee court case highlights the importance of getting care agreements in writing. A grandmother claimed she gave her grandson and his wife her house in exchange for their oral promise to care for her. When they refused to provide care after she suffered a stroke, she sued them — and lost.
Rena Thompson, now 83, and her husband built a three-bedroom house in Tennessee in 1978. Mrs. Thompson's husband died three years later. Mrs. Thompson suffered a series of strokes and spent much of her time living with her son, who is retired and could care for her. Meanwhile, Mrs. Thompson allowed her grandson, Charles Hensley, and his wife to move into her home. According to Mrs. Thompson, the Hensleys agreed, to “take care of me as long as I lived.” Mrs. Thompson subsequently gave her house to the Hensleys; in exchange, she claims, for this promise of care. The Hensleys say they never agreed to anything of the sort.
A particularly serious stroke left Mrs. Thompson requiring 24-hour care. After a year of living with her son, Mrs. Thompson expressed a desire to move back to her own home. She was prevented from doing so, however, because the house now belonged to the Hensleys, both of whom work and could not provide the round-the-clock care Mrs. Thompson required. Mrs. Thompson sued the Hensleys, claiming that they had breached an oral contract to care for her in exchange for receiving her property. The trial court dismissed Mrs. Thompson’s claim, ruling that that there was no oral agreement between the parties. The court noted that Mrs. Thompson could have protected herself — but failed to do so — by placing specific restrictions on the deed in which she gave her property to the Hensleys.
The Court of Appeals of Tennessee agreed with the trial court, ruling that there was no "meeting of the minds" regarding the terms of the alleged contract. The moral of the story: Get care agreements in writing, especially if you are giving away your property in exchange for a promise of in-home care. Thompson v. Hensley (Tenn. Ct. App., No. E2003 - 00456 - COA-R3-CV, Nov. 12, 2003).
Access the full text of the appeals court's decision in PDF format.
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For more on putting care agreements in writing, click here.