June 17, 2014 § 7 Comments
In this district we have had a problem with fiduciaries having been appointed and never qualified by taking the oath and posting any required bond, and consequently not having Letters issued.
A fiduciary has no authority to act unless and until that person has qualified, which requires taking the oath, posting any required bond, and having Letters issued.
In one case in my court the person appointed used the order appointing him, without Letters of Administration ever having been issued, to sell a car, and he closed a couple of bank accounts. He sold the car and pocketed the money; who knows what he did with the funds. The lawyer who opened the estate spent a considerable sum out of his own pocket trying to recover the estate’s money. Not surprisingly, the perpetrator was judgment proof and can no longer be found on this planet.
In another case, a woman (not the mother) testified that she was guardian of the child, but when I ordered the insurance attorney to get the guardianship file, it showed that only an order appointing her had been entered, and she had never taken an oath or posted a required $10,000 bond. Incidentally, she testified that her lawyer had told her that the order was adequate, and she proceeded to use that apparent authority to negotiate a settlement of the child’s claim.
We came up with some language that we now require all attorneys to include in their orders opening estates, guardianships, and conservatorships. You may find this language useful in your own district, and even if you find it superfluous, you just might conclude that there’s no harm in including it.
Here it is:
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that if the fiduciary has failed to qualify by posting the required bond, if any, taking the oath, and having appropriate Letters issued as required by this order and the laws of the State of Mississippi within thirty (30) days of entry of this order, then the Chancery Clerk is hereby ordered and directed to notify the court immediately of such failure, and the court shall enter an order dismissing this civil action without prejudice and without further notice to the fiduciary, or attorney of record for the fiduciary, or any other parties who have entered an appearance in this civil action.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED AND ADJUDGED THAT THIS ORDER DOES NOT AUTHORIZE [Name] TO ACT AS THE FIDUCIARY FOR [Name of ward or decedent] UNLESS VALID LETTERS [Testamentary, or of Administration, or of Guardianship, or of Conservatorship] ARE ATTACHED HERETO.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that persons who use or accept this order without the attached Letters as court authority to act or conduct the affairs of the [ward or decedent] shall be subject to sanctions by this court.
June 18, 2010 § 5 Comments
§ 91-7-293, MCA requires in part that “The executor or administrator shall file with his final account a written statement, under oath, of the names of the heirs or devisees and legatees of the estate, so far as known … the statement must aver that diligent inquiry has been made to learn the same without avail … ”
So how do you know who the real heirs are? There is a case in Clarke County where as far as the children knew the decedent had no other heirs, and the case proceeded on that basis until one fine day when a claimant popped up. That case has been pending a dozen years, with an appeal and remand, and a third generation of lawyers. The claimant says that the decedent fathered him while in the Air Force in California during the Korean conflict, and that he secretly stayed in touch with him through all the years. The point is that the children were never aware that there was anyone else claiming to be a child. The undeniable fact is that — especially in the case of a male decedent — we can never be entirely sure that the decedent did not have another child the family did not know about.
Whether to require publication to determine unknown heirs in administrations was a topic of discussion at the Chancery Judges’ winter study meeting in January. The consensus was that determination of unknown heirs should be required in all administrations, so you should be prepared to meet this requirement as you handle estate business around the state. FYI: in District 16 (Jackson, Greene and George Counties), you will be required to publish in both testate and intestate estates.
In sum, you must include an action to determine the unknown heirs of the decedent in all administration actions, with proper publication. Thirty days’ notice is required for the action to determine unknown heirs.
You will not be able to close the estate unless the action to determine unknown heirs is completed.