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Stephens v. Colley

Supreme Court of Alabama

August 15, 2014

Franklin Leroy Stephens
v.
Hazel Colley

Released for Publication April 13, 2015.

Appeal from Pike Circuit Court. (CV-13-900180). Thomas E. Head III, Trial Judge.

For Appellant: Joel Lee Williams, Troy.

For Appellee: Elizabeth M. Borg of McAdory Borg Law Firm PC, Auburn.

STUART, Justice. Moore, C.J., and Parker and Wise, JJ., concur. Shaw, J., concurs in the result.

OPINION

Page 279

STUART, Justice.

Franklin Leroy Stephens, the defendant below, appeals from an order of the Pike Circuit Court granting injunctive relief to the plaintiff below, Hazel Colley. We reverse and remand.

I.

In late 2011, Sara Frances Dees was residing at Troy Health and Rehabilitation Center following the amputation of her second leg as a result of diabetes and related circulation issues. On approximately January 15, 2012, Stephens -- a nephew of both Dees and Colley -- checked Dees out of the rehabilitation center and moved her back into her house in Troy. Stephens and an unidentified female companion also moved into the house and began caring for Dees. Colley alleges that Stephens thereafter began restricting access to Dees, preventing Colley and Dees's friends from speaking with her on the telephone or visiting with her outside his or his female companion's presence. Colley, who lives in Opelika, alleges that she had previously had a close relationship with her sister and had stayed with her for weeks at a time to help with her medical needs; however, she alleges, once Stephens moved into Dees's house Stephens would no longer allow her to stay with Dees overnight.

Over the course of 2012, Stephens's role in Dees's life continued to increase. In September 2012, Stephens scheduled two separate appointments for Dees with an attorney. At the first of those appointments on September 26, 2012, Dees executed a durable power of attorney designating Stephens as Dees's attorney-in-fact. At a second appointment on September 28, 2012, Dees executed a new will naming Stephens as executor and primary heir of her estate. These newly executed documents replaced a previous durable power of attorney naming Colley as Dees's attorney-in-fact and a will naming Colley as executor and primary heir of Dees's estate, both of which Dees had executed in July 2011.[1]

Beginning in October 2012, Stephens also began taking Dees to the various financial institutions at which she had deposits and requesting that he either be added to all her accounts as a signatory or be named as the beneficiary on the accounts. The evidence in the record indicates that multiple bank employees involved in those requests were alarmed by Stephens's actions. For example, Kathryn Faircloth, a personal banker at Troy Bank and Trust, made the following statement in an affidavit submitted to the trial court:

" Mrs. Sara Dees has banked with Troy Bank and Trust for many years. In working with her on her banking needs, I met her sister, Hazel Colley, and have spoken with each of them often regarding Mrs. Dees checking accounts as well as several certificates of deposit. Mrs. Dees executed a power of attorney which named Mrs. Colley as her attorney-in-fact and supplied a copy of that to the bank. Mrs. Dees listed Hazel Colley

Page 280

as joint owner on her personal checking account and also as a pay-on-death beneficiary on certain certificates of deposit. Even when Mrs. Dees married Marion Dees, Hazel Colley remained on her checking account and some certificates of deposit as pay-on-death.[2] Marion was on the checking account for a period of time and then came off but Hazel remained on the checking account.
" Mrs. Dees was brought to the bank by Leroy Stephens in 2012, who stated that he was to be added as beneficiary of every financial instrument held by Mrs. Dees at [Troy Bank and Trust]. This included all of her certificates of deposit and her checking account. Mrs. Dees's appearance was drastically different from how she appeared in our interactions through the years. She did not appear alert or fully aware of the changes stated by Stephens. This was very out of character for Mrs. Dees because she always listed her sister Mrs. Colley as beneficiary on all of her certificates of deposit, even when she was married to Marion Dees. Mr. Stephens was so adamant to make these changes to Mrs. Dees's accounts that he called me regularly wanting to know when the paperwork on all certificates of deposit and bank accounts would be completed and ready for Mrs. Dees's signature.
" I grew concerned while making these changes because I noticed several large checks clearing out of her checking account. Each of the large checks were made payable to Leroy Stephens, most of them with the memo listed as 'bills.' Checks were also clearing her account for her bills in addition to these large checks made payable to Mr. Stephens. I immediately notified my supervisor of the large checks clearing her account that were abnormal from her typical usage. My supervisor then consulted the bank's security officer, who advised that absent any order from a judge that declared Mrs. Dees not competent, we could not refuse to add Stephens to her accounts or cash checks she signed made payable to Mr. Stephens."

It appears that Stephens was thereafter successfully added as a signatory or beneficiary ...


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