Court: Aunt Who Gave Nephew Life Savings Has a Case

[This article was originally published on April 13, 2010.  The links were updated on July 12, 2018.]

Often seniors will make deals with other members of their family to secure their care or living arrangements as they age. But sometimes these deals can go awry, as was the case with a client of an ElderLawAnswers member attorney.

In 2006, Hannah Bryant helped her nephew, Mark Cribbie, and his wife buy a bigger house by contributing $217,550 to the purchase. Ms. Bryant, who lives in Massachusetts, gave the money in exchange for a promise that the Cribbies would allow her to live with them in the new house for the rest of her life.

Unfortunately, the arrangement did not work out as planned and soon Ms. Bryant was living alone in senior housing. When the Cribbies refused to return any of the money, Ms. Bryant sued them for breach of contract. A trial court threw the case out before it could go to trial, agreeing with the Cribbies that because Ms. Bryant had signed two letters for the mortgage company saying that the money transferred was a gift and that she did not expect repayment, the Cribbies did not owe her anything. Ms. Bryant appealed.

Now the Appeals Court of Massachusetts has overturned the lower court's decision and sent the case back for trial. The court points out that the two letters to the mortgage company were written well after the parties had reached their agreement, and that one could infer that although Ms. Bryant was not expecting repayment of the money, "she nonetheless expected that the Cribbies would provide her a place to live for her lifetime."

The twin morals of this story are, first, consult with legal counsel before giving over your life's savings, and second, if you've been wronged, don't give up. Even if one judge doesn't see it your way, with good lawyering the appeals court may. In this case, the good lawyering came from Jeffrey A. Bloom of the Boston ElderLawAnswers member firm of Margolis & Bloom, who represented Ms. Bryant.