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Estate of Henry v. Woods

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 19, 2017

The Estate of George A. Henry, Deceased, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
Nadene Woods, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Marion Superior Court Trial Court Cause Nos. 49D08-1202-EU-4311, 49D08-1208-PL-31442 The Honorable Steven R. Eichholtz, Judge.

          Attorney for Appellant Christopher T. Smith, Smith Davis LLC Greenfield, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee C. Dennis Wegner, C. Dennis Wegner & Assoc., P.C., Indianapolis, Indiana, Jonathan E. Palmer, Indianapolis, Indiana

          Bailey, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Nadene Woods ("Woods") filed a claim for services against the Estate of George Henry ("the Estate"), which was disallowed and then contested in a bench trial. The Marion County Superior Court, Probate Division, partially allowed the claim, and the Estate appealed. We affirm.

         Issues

         [¶2]The Estate presents three issues for review, which we restate as the following:

I. Whether the probate court erroneously evaluated the claim under a standard applicable to general creditors as opposed to a standard for family members incorporating a presumption that services were gratuitous;
II. Whether a finding of fact is clearly erroneous; and
III. Whether the conclusion that Woods is entitled to partial recovery upon her claim is clearly erroneous.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] In 1944, George Henry ("Henry") married Phyllis Henry ("Phyllis"); she was subsequently diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. By 1998, Phyllis needed in-home assistance while Henry pursued his law practice. Henry hired a housekeeper to clean one day per week and paid her $90.00. He hired Woods to personally assist Phyllis. Four days per week, Woods prepared lunch, emptied Phyllis' catheter, changed bed linens, and did some errands. Henry paid Woods $150.00 per week.

         [¶4] Phyllis died on February 4, 1998. Woods asked Henry if her services were still needed and he replied in the negative. However, after a week or two, Henry confessed to a friend that he was running out of clothing and he didn't know how to do laundry. Henry invited Woods over for a home-cooked meal. He then asked Woods to do his laundry and she obliged.

         [¶5] As time went on, Woods took on other household duties. Also, she and Henry began to go out socially. Customarily, Henry paid for Woods' meals when they dined out. At some point, Woods asked Henry about payment and he responded, "I feed you, don't I?" (Tr. at 317.)

         [¶6] In the fall of 1998, Henry suffered a heart attack. He recovered such that he could continue practicing law, but as time went on he needed additional assistance with daily tasks. Henry asked Woods to spend more time at his residence. Eventually, Woods moved into Henry's house. She kept some of her possessions there, but always maintained a separate residence. Henry continued working until his mid-eighties. At times, Woods took work providing in-home services for elderly clients.

         [¶7] Sometime in 2006, Henry began having some episodes of falling and he also began to need assistance to rise from a chair. In early 2010, he began experiencing chest pains. In December of 2010, Henry had a second heart attack. Henry survived the second heart attack, but became more sedentary. He developed pressure sores, and Woods tended to those, after receiving instruction at the St. Francis Wound Care Center. Henry died on January 5, 2012, at the age of ninety-two. His will was admitted to probate in Marion County.

         [¶8] Woods filed a claim against the Estate, seeking compensation for fourteen years of services. As amended, Woods's claim sought $381, 355.00 (for housekeeping services, nursing care, cleaning supplies, and adult diapers). The services described as relating to February 1998 to December 2008 (for $113, 200.00) were:

Basic household chores for housekeeping/maid services for 3000 square foot home, vacuuming, dusting, mopping, cleaning, cooking, average two meals daily, dishwashing, bed linens, laundry, ironing and putting away clothes. In addition to the basic services, heavy cleaning twice a year, lawn mowing twice a week, trimming 94 bushes twice a year, landscaping, planting, weeding, harvesting for vegetable garden, canning all produce, tending flowers, washing furnace filters, cleaning flooded basement two times and supervising the third time, transportation, prescription pill monitoring, attending doctor visits, and ...

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