Since I recently posted a blog about annulment but I haven’t posted anything about conservatorships in a while, I decided to show an example how a conservator can use an annulment to keep someone from taking advantage of her father.
This case is Nave v. Nave, (173 S.W.3d 766, for the nerds). In 1988 Marshall Nave suffered a stroke which adversely affected the left side of his body, and caused him to have issues with his memory. After this major stroke, his doctor said he had several “mini strokes”. Early in 1996, Mr. Nave’s wife died. His condition continued to worsen and he moved in with his daughter, Terri King. At this point he was unable to dress, feed himself, or control his bowels or bladder.
Mr. Nave ran into an old friend, Phyllis, at a Christmas party in 1996. The two began dating and Mr. Nave would stay nights at Phyllis’ house, and they eventually started living together.
In 1998, Mr. Nave was diagnosed with dementia related to his strokes. He was unable to follow simple commands like “touch your nose”. By March of 1999, Mr. Nave had deteriorated to the point that he could not tell his physician what day it was, or even what year or month it was. Soon after that his physician noted that he had lost most of his language skills and his vocabulary only consisted of a few words.
Later that year, Mr. Nave’s daughter (Terri King) decided to file a petition for appointment of conservator asking the court to appoint her as conservator for her father. Phyllis objected to the daughter’s decision, and four days after the petition was filed Mr. Nave married Phyllis (now Phyllis Nave). Terri King was not notified about the wedding and wasn’t aware that her father was planning to marry Phyllis.
Appointment of conservator
It took nine months for the court to appoint a conservator for Mr. Nave. The court doesn’t go into any detail about this period, but I’m going to assume there was a pretty good battle going on between Mr. Nave’s wife and daughter. Regardless, in September of 2000 the court found that Mr. Nave was disabled and appointed Terri King as conservator for him.
Here’s the problem with all this: Mr. Nave got married at at time when it seems clear his mind was failing him. One of the requirements of a valid marriage is that the parties be competent and able to make their own decisions. Based on the description above, it’s unlikely that he could have given reasonable consent for the marriage. In fact, Ms. King claimed that when she confronted him with the marriage, he said “Hell no, I did not marry [Phyllis]”.
However, should Mr. Nave die while married, his wife will have a claim to at least a third of his estate, if not more. This may well be why he ended up at the county courthouse in a quick marriage ceremony at a time when he couldn’t even sign his name properly.
The conservator uses an annulment
In 2002, Ms. King, using her power as conservator, asked a court to annul the marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Nave. Her contention was that Mr. Nave did not have the capacity to consent to the marriage, and was unable to ratify the marriage later because he remained incompetent.
Generally, a petition for annulment can only be filed by one of the married parties. For example, if I decided my sister’s marriage was invalid I have no ability to ask a court to void the marriage. I would either have to have a talk with her or seek to be appointed her representative somehow. In the case of Mr. Nave, a conservator had been given the authority to manage most of his affairs.
The order appointing Ms. King as the conservator did not specifically give her the power to challenge the marriage. However, there was a “catch-all” provision that said she had the right to “do any other act of legal significance which the Court, at any time in the future, might deem necessary or advisable”. After Phyllis Nave challenged Ms. King’s authority, the Court found that this language was sufficient to give Ms. King the authority to seek an annulment on her father’s behalf.
The Court found that Mr. Nave did not have sufficient mental capacity to enter into the marriage. There are times when even an invalid marriage can be ratified later by the conduct of the parties. However, in this case the Court also found that Mr. Nave never had sufficient mental capacity to ratify the marriage. The Court granted the annulment, and the entire marriage (including Phyllis’ ability to claim anything from his estate) was wiped out. I mention the estate because Mr. Nave actually died a few months after the trial regarding the marriage.
If you think you may have similar issues (or even some that are not similar at all), please contact me to find out how I may be able to help you.