Sunday, April 19, 2015
The Delaware Court of Chancery has held that a man had capacity to lavish gifts on a much younger woman.
Since the time of King David and Abishag—and, surely, before—certain old men have pursued an interest in certain young women. Sometimes, as in that case, the relationship is one of a powerful man and an exploited woman. Sometimes, it represents, no doubt, a May-December mutual romance, or at least a mercenary exchange of value for value. In other cases, however, it involves exploitation of an elderly and vulnerable benefactor. This case involves a relationship that quickly arose between a moderately well-to-do recent widower in his mid-eighties and a diner waitress of an age to be his granddaughter. The Petitioners—the old man’s heirs, trust and estate—allege the relationship is of the third variety described above; the Respondent contends it belongs in the second category.
During a fourteen-month relationship, George Reed, Jr. (“George Jr.”) lavished gifts on the Respondent, Lisa Grandelli, ranging from a few hundred dollars to a pickup truck costing over $30,000. He also paid cash—nearly a quarter-million dollars—for a condominium in Rehoboth Beach, titled jointly with Lisa with right of survivorship. The Petitioners, George Jr.’s estate, his trust and the beneficiaries of his will, seek, principally through imposition of equitable remedies, to recoup the value of these gifts.
Individuals are presumed competent unless proven otherwise, and are free to deploy their assets, wisely or foolishly, as they see fit. Equity may act in appropriate cases to remedy breaches of fiduciary duty or oppression, or to carry out the true intent of parties. If, however, equity were empowered to remedy every improvident expenditure in aid of unrequited love or misplaced desire, Delaware would need a Chancery Courthouse on every corner.
Lisa must account for the condo and pay back the estate for a Key West jaunt that was financed under false pretenses (her testimony on that issue was "a concatenation of self-serving lies").
The concluding lament
George Jr.’s heirs are upset that in the last months of his life, their father lavished expensive gifts on a much younger woman. Their position is natural; frankly, this is a case that was neither a pleasure to hear or write on. As a competent individual, however, George Jr.’s choices were his to make. Lisa, on the other hand, has treated as her own a condominium unit owned in common with George, Jr.’s Trust, for which she must account. In addition, loans made to her by George Jr. must be repaid, together with amounts to pay for the Key West trip, which she received based on false representations. The parties should submit an appropriate form of order. Each party must bear its own fees and costs.