Murder by Health Care Directive?

We encourage all our clients to prepare Health Care Directives appointing someone to make healthcare or medical treatment decisions for them in the event of incapacity. We also advise them to appoint only trusted persons in such a role, since this is a tremendous responsibility. Spouses and children are often the appointed agents; however, the following story requires us as attorneys and you as the client to realize that sometimes there discord within a family can create problems. In a real-life story fit for Dateline or 48 Hours Mysteries, the attorney/daughter is suspected of using a forged health care power of attorney to kill her father, thereby possibly ensuring her substantial inheritance from him free of estate tax.

Susan Elizabeth “Liz” Van Note, a 44-year old Kansas City, Missouri, attorney, has been charged with murder by using a forged durable power of attorney for health care to take her father off of a ventilator after he was hospitalized following a shooting and stabbing in his 3-story lake house where his long-time girlfriend was also murdered. Her father was intending to marry this girlfriend. The girlfriend was to inherit some of his property if she survived him (she died 4 days before he did). Another interesting “note” (pardon the pun): the 67-year-old father died in 2010, when there was no estate tax. He reportedly was worth around $10 million. Additionally, by receiving property via the death of her father, the daughter would receive a stepped up basis reducing capital gains tax as well. The matter is in probate, and the daughter has been suspended as executor of his estate while investigation continues. She recently was arrested after over a year-and-a-half investigation, and was held on $1 million bond. This tragic tale proves that the pen may indeed be mightier than the sword.

A well written account of the tale is provided by Donald Bradley and Laura Bauer, from the September 22, 2012 Kansas City Star.