The First Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined plaintiff stated causes of action for conversion, unjust enrichment and undue influence exercised by the defendant with regard to changing the beneficiary on a $6 million account:
… [T]he circumstances requiring scrutiny include the alleged facts that plaintiff was decedent’s closest living relative, that they had a continuing close relationship, and that he had been the designated beneficiary for 10 years, while defendant was a neighbor and relatively recent friend … . Moreover, plaintiff sufficiently alleges defendant’s financial motive (the $6 million-plus value of the account), opportunity (that his aunt and defendant were neighbors, and his aunt’s advanced age, fragile physical health, and inability to print the change of beneficiary form independently), and actual exercise of undue influence (the execution and mailing of the change of beneficiary form and the suspicious circumstances surrounding the writing of a $15,000 check to defendant weeks later) … . Furthermore, accepting the pleadings as true, the allegations that plaintiff’s aunt attempted to stop payment on the $15,000 check and that she complained to others that defendant had tricked her into writing the check, and changed her will to remove defendant as her executor, but did not change or revoke the beneficiary form, together support an inference that the aunt either was not aware of the form or was not aware of its effect. Salitsky v D’Attanasio, 2023 NY Slip Op 01597, First Dept 3-23-23
Practice Point: The allegation that plaintiff’s aunt changed the beneficiary on a $6 million account from plaintiff to defendant, coupled with the allegations of the aunt’s fragile health and advanced age, stated causes of action for undue influence, conversion and unjust enrichment.