THE AFFIDAVIT OF “REASONABLY DILIGENT INQUIRY” FOR CLAIMS AGAINST THE ESTATE

July 25, 2011 § 11 Comments

MCA § 91-7-145(1) requires the estate fiduciary to make “reasonably diligent inquiry” to identify persons who have claims against the estate, and to notify them by mail at their last known address that failure to probate a claim within the statutorily-prescribed time will bar their claims.

MCA § 91-7-145(2) provides that:

“The executor or administrator shall file with the clerk of the court an affidavit stating that such executor or administrator has made reasonably diligent efforts to identify persons having claims against the estate and has given notice by mail … to all persons so identified. Upon filing such affidavit, it shall be the duty of the executor or administrator to publish in some newspaper in the county a notice requiring all persons having claims against the estate to have same probated and registered by the cleerk of the court granting the letters, which notice shall state the time when the letters were granted and that a failure to probate and register within ninety (90) days after the first publication of such notice will bar the claim … ” [Emphasis added]

Most lawyers refer to this as the “Affidavit of Creditors.”

Clearly, then, the statute requires these measures, in this order:

  1. First, identify those having a claim against the estate;
  2. Send them notice conforming to the statute;
  3. File an affidavit with the clerk stating compliance with the statute;
  4. Publish notice to creditors.

Skip a step and you will have to start over. Go out of order and you will have to start over. Notice the language of the statute: it says that publication is undertaken “[u]pon filing such affidavit …” That clearly requires that you may not publish until after the affidavit has been filed. And, of course, the affidavit can not be filed until after you have made diligent inquiry and mailed your notices, if any.

In the case of In re Estate of Petrick, 635 So.2d 1389 (Miss. 1994), the untimely claim of a creditor was allowed because the administratrix published without notifying a creditor whom the court found was “reasonably ascertainable.” The court added that notice may be published only after the affidavit has been filed (at 1394).

In Houston v. Ladner, 911 So.2d 673 (Miss. App. 2005), the COA found the chancellor in error for finding a probated claim time-barred without first finding that the creditor was a reasonably ascertainable creditor. The creditor had not been sent notice by mail, and the COA pointed out that publication notice was not a substitute for mail notice; it was required in addition to mail notice.

Here are a couple of practice tips to help you comply with the statute:

  • Always question your fiduciary about bills of the decedent. It will be hard to argue that BOA Visa was not a “reasonably ascertainable” creditor when your fiduciary had been paying the bill herself for three months after the decedent died and before the estate was opened. It will be harder still to argue that the attending physician at the time of death was not “reasonably ascertainable.”
  • Why not include the required affidavit in your petition to open the estate, or in the fiduciary’s oath, whichever is the appropriate point for you? Maybe by eliminating one extra piece of paper you will be more likely to do it right.

Reminder: MCA § 93-13-38 makes the foregoing provisions applicable to guardianships and conservatorships, as well as estates.

The statutory requirements are technical and mandatory. Read the code and do what it says. Doing so can save you considerable grief down the road.

“A PERILOUS MISTAKE” IN HANDLING FIDUCIARY MATTERS

July 11, 2011 § 8 Comments

Lawyers in my district are aware that I have begun cracking down on the handling of estates, guardianships and conservatorships.  Delinquent and inadequate accountings, lack of inventories, absence of vouchers and other deficiencies are no longer tolerated.

My motivation in part has been the fact that there are lawsuits pending against local lawyers claiming mishandling of fiduciary matters.  On the coast only last year, it was discovered that a lawyer serving as county administrator until his death may have misappropriated funds in excess of a million dollars.

If you’re going to handle probate matters, understand that as the lawyer you have a grave responsibility for which you may be held liable by judgment for the proper handling of the estate by the fiduciary.  Let me repeat that you may be held liable by judgment.

My responsibility as chancellor is not only to ensure that the assets and rights of the ward or estate are protected, but also to see that the attorney does not err.

To get an idea of the gravity, you need to read and take to heart the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision in Matthews v. Williams, 633 So.2d 1038 (Miss. 1994).  In that case, the conservator failed to file an inventory and, when he finally did, omitted financial assets.  He failed to file accountings, and when he finally did reported expenditures made without any prior approval of the court.  He made investments without approval of the court, and was unable to account properly for them.  The chancellor approved his actions, but when that chancellor left office, the next chancellor granted a petition to remove the conservator.  Here are some key excerpts from the court’s opinion (beginning at page 1039):

A chancery court-appointed conservator has the “same duties, powers and responsibilities as a guardian of a minor, and all laws relative to the guardianship of a minor shall be applicable to a conservator.” Miss.Code Ann. § 93-13-259 (1972).  [NOTE:  And MCA § 93-13-38 states that “All the provisions of law on the subject of executors and administrators, relating to settlement or disposition of property limitations, notice to creditors, probate and registration of claims, proceedings to insolvency and distribution of assets of insolvent estates, shall, insofar as applicable and not otherwise provided, be observed and enforced in all guardianships.”
I. INVENTORY
Miss.Code Ann. § 93-13-33 (1972) states:

Every guardian shall, within three months after his appointment, return to the court, under oath, a true and perfect inventory of the estate, real and personal, and of all money or other things which he may have received as the property of his ward; and he shall return additional inventories of whatever he may subsequently receive. And he shall annually return an inventory, under oath, of the increase of the estate, if there be any. A guardian who shall fail to return inventories may be removed and his bond put in suit, unless he can show cause for the default. (Emphasis added)

The first inventory was not filed until February 23, 1988, a year and two months following Dan’s appointment. It did not mention bonds owned by the estate. The third inventory filed May 13, 1990, purporting to show the inventory of the estate as of December 31, 1989, lists “Series E. Bonds $2,063.22.”

The bonds were first identified by serial number and date of purchase in the fourth inventory showing assets as of December 18, 1990, and filed January 7, 1991, which states: “Series E Bonds (all $25.00/7 year Bonds),” and then lists twenty-seven bonds by serial number and showing dates of purchase from July 1966 through July 1969. Subsequent inventories were not timely filed, and no reason was given therefor. There is no explanation for failure to include the bonds.

II. ANNUAL ACCOUNTS

The annual accounts required by Miss.Code Ann. § 93-13-67 (1974) were not timely filed, and no reason was offered therefor.  [NOTE: MCA § 93-13-67 states: “Except as herein provided, and as provided in section 93-13-7, every guardian shall, at least once in each year, and oftener if required, exhibit his account, showing the receipts of money on account of his ward, and showing the annual product of the estate under his management, and the sale or other disposition thereof, and showing also each item of his expenditure in the maintenance and education of his ward and in the preservation and management of his estate, supported by legal vouchers…. And such accounts shall be examined, approved, and allowed by the court in the same way that the accounts of executors and administrators are examined, approved, and allowed. Compliance with the duties required, in this section, of guardian shall be enforced by the same means and in the same manner as is provided in respect to the accounts of executors and administrators. (Emphasis added)
III. EXPENDITURES WITHOUT COURT APPROVAL
Much more serious is the failure of Dan to seek court approval prior to making expenditures. Section 93-13-38 (1993) provides:

It shall be the duty of the guardian … to improve the estate committed to his charge, and to apply so much of the income, profit or body thereof as may be necessary for the comfortable maintenance and support of the ward and of his family, if he have any, after obtaining an order of the court fixing the amount…. The guardian is empowered to collect and sue for and recover all debts due his said ward … (Emphasis added)

This statute requires that a court order fixing the amount to be spent for the care and maintenance of the ward be obtained prior to making such expenditures. Dan simply made the expenditures as he saw fit. When this Court addressed such action in Welch v. Childers, 195 Miss. 415, 420, 15 So.2d 690, 691 (1943), we held:

A minor under guardianship is a ward of the Chancery Court. All receipts and disbursements of his estate are required to be under the authority and direction of the Chancery Court or the Chancellor in vacation. The expenses for the maintenance and support of the ward cannot be proved in any other way. The object of the law is to guard against dishonesty and mismanagement of the estate by the guardian…. The law does not leave the amount of the expenditures by the guardian for the maintenance, support and education to (the guardian’s) discretion. The sum must be fixed by the court. If the guardian contracts therefor without the sanction of the Chancery Court or Chancellor, the liability therefor is personal to him, and he cannot be allowed for it in his accounts for the ward. The guardian has no power to bind the estate of his ward without the sanction of the Chancery Court or the Chancellor.

That prior court approval is absolutely required by statute before a conservator makes expenditures seems never to have occurred to counsel representing Dan or the chancellor who then examined and approved them. Expenditures for the care and maintenance of Mrs. Mathews and her property were made by Dan as though he had some blanket power of attorney to spend as he thought best, and only then report it to a chancellor. No explanation was offered to the chancellor for all these expenditures having been made without court approval, nor did the chancellor require one. This is of profound concern to this Court. We again remind attorneys for estates of wards and decedents and the chancellors who examine accounts and inventories that they, too, have special and far-reaching fiduciary duties. It was the obligation of the attorney to advise the conservator as to his statutory duties, responsibilities, and limitations on expenditures. As for chancellors, a chancellor who must approve accounts and inventories has a duty beyond deciding lawsuits. He is under an obligation first to see that accounts and inventories filed comply with the statutes before he approves them. He is also the “superior guardian” of the ward. This Court long ago in Union Chevrolet Co. v. Arrington, 162 Miss. 816, 826, 827, 138 So. 593, 595 (1932), held:

Infants and persons of unsound mind are disabled under the law to act for themselves. Long ago it became the established rule for the court of chancery to act as the superior guardian for all persons under such disability. This inherent and traditional power and protective duty is made complete and irrefragable by the provisions of our present state constitution. It is not competent for the Legislature to abate the said powers and duties or for the said court to omit or neglect them. It is the inescapable duty of the said court and or the chancellor to act with constant care and solicitude towards the preservation and protection of the rights of infants and persons non compos mentis. The court will take nothing as confessed against them; will make for them every valuable election; will rescue them from faithless guardians, designing strangers, and even from unnatural parents, and in general will and must take all necessary steps to conserve and protect the best interest of these wards of the court. The court will not and cannot permit the rights of an infant to be prejudiced by an waiver, or omission or neglect or design of a guardian, or of any other person, so far as within the power of the court to prevent or correct. Grif.Chan.Prac. §§ 45, 360, 530, 533. All persons who deal with guardians or with courts in respect to the rights of infants are charged with the knowledge of the above principles, and act to the contrary thereof at their peril. (Emphasis added)  Also, Mississippi State Bar Association v. Moyo, 525 So.2d 1289, 1293 (Miss.1988).

Solicitors for guardians and conservators and chancellors who must approve their accounts and inventories who ignore these fiduciary responsibilities make a perilous mistake.  [Note from the opinion:  We are not comforted by the May 18, 1990, decree approving the third annual account in which the chancellor first authorized the conservator to “pay all future medical, personal, and other expenses for the creature comforts of Frances Mathews.” With no representation from Dan as to why any of these expenses might be, the chancellor gave him blanket authorization to expend his estate’s funds.

IV. INVESTMENTS WITHOUT COURT APPROVAL

Section 93-13-57 Miss.Code Ann. (1972) deals with the method the guardian is to utilize in disposing of surplus money not necessary for the current expenditures for the ward. This section provides in part:

Whenever the guardian shall have money of his ward not needed for current expenditures, or directed to be invested for the ward, he shall apply to the court, or chancellor in vacation, for direction as to the disposition he shall make of it. The court or chancellor shall determine whether he shall lend it at interest, and upon what security, or how he shall dispose of it. If the court or chancellor designate the person to whom the loan shall be made, or the security on which it shall be made, and the loan to be so made, responsibility shall not attach thereafter to the guardian; but if the court or chancellor shall entrust him with discretion in the matter, he shall be bound for the exercise of sound judgment…. Any guardian who fails to report to the court the fact that he has money of his ward not needed or allowed to be used for current expenditures, and to ask the order of the court as to the disposition of such money, may be chargeable with interest on the same at the rate of eight per centum (8%) per annum during the time of failure. (Emphasis added)

Dan, on behalf of Mrs. Mathews, purchased certificates of deposit, invested in stock, and sold stock, all without prior court approval.

Moreover, we have been unable to trace the certificates of deposit from one accounting period to the next because the numbers identifying them differed. Interest proceeds appear to have been treated inconsistently, some deposited in the ward’s checking account, other reinvested. Interest deposited in the checking account identified by certificate of deposit numbers differed from the numbers identifying the certificates in the inventory for that period.

On January 23, 1987, Dan petitioned and on January 26, 1987, received court approval to commence legal action to recover money fraudulently obtained from her. No report was ever made to the court of the outcome of this action.

V. QUESTIONABLE EXPENDITURES

In deciding whether Dan should be removed as conservator, the chancellor also had authority to consider his expenditure, and without prior court approval, of more than $1,800 in repairs on a pickup truck valued at $800, and in an 18-month period following the ward’s admittance to the nursing home, $498 for oil, gas and service for the truck. Utilities and household expenses, including a telephone, were kept active after Mrs. Mathews went to a nursing home, and expenditures made, all without court approval. Some vouchers were made to “cash.”

We do not have before us and do not address the justification for any expenditures made by Dan as conservator, or their reasonableness or necessity. These may be proper inquiries upon remand. Neville v. Kelso, 247 So.2d 828, 834-835 (Miss.1971).

The chancellor should also upon remand see that inventories reflect and accurately trace the investment of all funds.

Our sole inquiry on this appeal is whether the chancellor abused his discretion in removing Dan as conservator, and for the reasons set forth she clearly did not. Harris v. King, 480 So.2d 1131, 1132 (Miss.1985); Conner v. Polk, 161 Miss. 24, 29, 133 So. 604, 605 (1931).

I don’t know how it could be any clearer.  You deal lackadaisically with probate matters at your peril.  Your law license, your reputation as an attorney, your malpractice coverage, and even your own assets are on the line.  I am not being melodramatic when I say this; I am being completely truthful and trying to wave a huge caution flag.  Matthews v. Williams makes it abundantly clear that the approval of the chancellor will not shield you or your fiduciary.

A COMPENDIUM OF ESTATE POSTS

July 5, 2011 § 6 Comments

CHECKLIST FOR DOING AN ACCOUNTING IN A PROBATE MATTER

April 11, 2011 § 16 Comments

_____ State the time period covered by the accounting, starting with the date of the last accounting, or if a first account with the date the estate, guardianship or conservatorsip was opened.

_____ List all assets of the estate as of the ending date of the last accounting. (MCA §91-7-277, §91-7-93, §93-1333, §93-13-67, and §93-113-259 and UCCR 6.03).

______ List the date, source, and amount of each item of income since the last accounting. (MCA §91-7-277, and §93-13-67).

______ Total the income and state a total.

______ List the date, payee, explanation or description, amount, and authority (the date of each authorizing court order) for each disbursement since the ending date of the last accounting. (MCA §91-7-277, 91-7-279, §93-13-67p, and §93-13-71 and UCCR 6.04 and 6.05).

______ Attach all documents supporting all income and disbursements. This is the “voucher” requirement that was previously posted about here. The required documentation includes ALL statements of any accounts or investments showing income or disbursements. This may also include canceled checks and receipts. (See statutes and rules cited above).

______ Total the disbursements and state the totals.

______ List and explain for all non-financial assets that appeared on the previous accounts, but are no longer in the control of the fiduciary.

______ A request for payment for the fiduciary including a bill or itemization to support request. (MCA §91-7-299 and §93-13-67 and UCCR 6.11).

______ A request for attorney fees, including a bill or itemization to support said request. (MCA §91-7-281 and §93-13-79 and UCCR 6.12).

______ Close with a summary calculation of the value of the estate coming into the hands of the fiduciary at the opening of the accounting period, a total of the income, a total of the disbursements, and a total balance in the fiduciary’s control that will be the beginning figure for the next account.

______ Have the fiduciary sign and swear to the accounting. (MCA §91-7-277 and §93-13-37 and UCCR 6.02).

Thanks to Jane Miller, Senior Staff Attorney for the 12th District.

SWEEPING DUSTBUNNIES

November 18, 2010 § 2 Comments

Have you ever noticed that mistakes and missteps seem to pile up in some cases despite your best efforts, just like those dustbunnies that pile up under that buffet in your dining room no matter how hard you try?

The case of Estate of Bellino v. Bellinodecided by the Court of Appeals on November 2, 2010, is one of those “dustbunny” cases, and it merits your attention.  For ease of following this, we’ll mark the dustbunnies as they accrue with the international dustbunny symbol: ¤.   

Stephen and Margaret Bellino were married in 1974.  During the marriage, Stephen inherited $200,000 and opened a securities account with A. G. Edwards (AGE).  In 1995, he and Margaret executed a joint account agreement declaring the account to be a joint tenancy with right of survivorship.

Alas, the marriage foundered, and the erstwhile blissful couple faced off in court.  Their marriage ended May 2, 2006, with entry of a final judgment of divorce. 

And that is when the discombobulating deluge of dustbunnies (¤) began to develop.

It seems that the divorce judgment made no mention of the AGE account.  That would be the first ¤. 

Stephen became aware of the problem when he tried to make a withdrawal and was refused by AGE, which took the position that it could not allow any withdrawals until the court addressed the ownership issue.  Another ¤.

Stephen filed an MRCP Rule 59 motion to alter or amend the judgment to address the oversight.  Only problem is that he waited until May 15, 2006.  That would be a major ¤ because it was filed more than ten days after entry of the judgment, and so the motion was time-barred. 

In all the hubbub surrounding the issue, Stephen never got around to changing ownership of the account.  This is one of those ¤’s that spawns lots of other ¤’s.

Before the issue could be resolved by the judge, Stephen died on June 18, 2006.  Regrettable as it is, this development was also a ¤.

Stephen’s estate was duly opened in July.  There is no mention of the estate being substituted as a party in the divorce action under MRCP 25.  Probably a ¤.

In November, the attorney for the estate approached the chancellor and, without any notice to Margaret or her attorneys, obtained an order directing AGE to pay the funds to the estate.  No question this was a ¤. 

To compound matters, the attorney for the estate never filed the order (or, it appears, any motion therefor) in either the estate or divorce file, and never served it on Margaret’s attorneys.  That would be ¤ ¤ ¤.

They’re beginning to pile up, aren’t they?

The chancellor set aside the order (he was likely not happy with the way it had been handled) and eventually ruled that the account was Margaret’s.  A ¤. 

At this point the attorney for the estate realized that the dustbunnies were getting out of hand, so he started trying to sweep them up.  The problem is that when you sweep dustbunnies it tends to scatter them and they seem to proliferate, which is exactly what they did.

The attorney for the estate filed an appeal.  Now, this is really a dustbunny because the issues are fairly straightforward and not really in doubt.  Score another ¤. 

Right off the bat the court of appeals criticized the attorney for the estate for not filing a statement of issues after being asked not once but several time by the appellate court to do so.  That would be another ¤ ¤ ¤.  The court even thought about not considering his brief, which is, of course a ¤.

The court of appeals ruled that Margaret got the money because Stephen never changed the account and it was hers by survivorship.  A predictable ¤.

Stephen’s estate will be stuck with the cost of cleaning up all these dustbunnies, and will have nothing to show for it.  That’s a ¤ right there.  In the alternative, the estate could insist that its attorney bear the cost of the appeal, which would be his own personal ¤.

So there you have it.  Too many dustbunnies and before you know it you have a mess too big to clean up.

CONTESTING PROBATED CLAIMS IN AN ESTATE

October 19, 2010 § 4 Comments

Section 91-7-165, MCA, allows the executor, administrator, legatee, heir or any creditor to contest a claim presented against the estate.  The statute requires notice to the claimant and a hearing.

This court requires notice on the claimant via a Rule 81 summons, returnable to a specific date and time.  Any other interested party who may have an interest contrary to the contestant should also be summoned, in this judge’s opinion.

At hearing, the burden of establishing a claim is on the claimant by clear and convincing evidence, or as one case characterized it, “by clear and reasonably positive evidence,” even though the claim has been admitted to probate by the clerk (in other words, the admission to probate of a claim does not have the same effect as admission of a will to probate). 

The decree of the court is limited to allowing or disallowing the claim, and the court can not enter a money judgment or judgment for other relief.

Appeal time runs from the date of entry of the decree allowing or disallowing the claim, and not from the date the estate is closed.

VOUCHERS YOU CAN VOUCH FOR

September 23, 2010 § 6 Comments

by Jane Stroble Miller, Senior Staff Attorney for the Twelfth Chancery Court District

Shortly after graduating from law school I was confronted with a baffling legal question.  An older and more experienced attorney was attempting to do something that Mississippi statutes and case law clearly stated he could not do.  In my naiveté I assumed he knew of a statute or case about which I was ignorant that allowed him to act as he did.  After several hours of exhaustive research I called a former professor and mentor, the Honorable William Champion.  On hearing my dilemma, he chuckled and informed me that I had just encountered an attorney who had been practicing law for so long that he had lost touch with what the law was. 

Recently I again encountered this phenomenon in my duty as staff attorney in monitoring probate matters.  One of my tasks is to try to explain to attorneys why the chancellor feels that their accountings do not meet the requirements of both the statutes and the Uniform Chancery Court Rules (UCCR).  In a meeting with an older attorney, I pointed out that he had failed to attach vouchers to his accounting.  He insisted that he could not provide the necessary documentation “because the banks no longer returned the original canceled checks,” and remained firmly stuck to that position.  I realized that I would have to do some research to arrive at a definitive answer.

Section 91-7-277, MCA, requires that the annual account show ” … disbursements, every item of which and the amount thereof to be distinctly stated and supported by legal voucher …”  Sections 91-7-279 and 93-13-71, MCA, prescribe the form for vouchers and provide that the account shall be rejected by the clerk unless the vouchers are in the proper form.  The only exception to the voucher requirement is when the guardian is an approved financial institution.

Over time, attorneys began using original canceled checks as “legal vouchers,” and the courts recognized them as such.  Although neither the statutes nor case law identify canceled checks as “legal vouchers,” there is authority in UCCR.  In fact, UCCR 6.04 does specifically refer to “a receipt or cancelled bank check …” as a voucher.

The problem with canceled checks as vouchers, however, is that if you stop at the check, you have omitted the most important, and meaningful, part of Rule 6.04.  The sentence of the Rule dealing with vouchers, in its entirety is as follows:  “Every such voucher shall consist of a receipt or cancelled bank check showing to whom and for what purpose the money was paid.”  [Emphasis added]

In other words, if the canceled check fulfills the function of showing “to whom and for what purpose the money was paid,” then it is a proper voucher within the meaning of the Rule.  If the canceled check does not do that job, it is not an acceptable legal voucher.  Put even plainer:  if the canceled check would not otherwise be acceptable as a receipt, it simply is not a legal voucher.

UCCR Rule 6.06 (Lost Vouchers) reinforces my conclusions.  It states that if the original voucher is lost or destroyed, a duplicate or ” … receipt from the person or corporation to whom the money was paid or the property was delivered … ” may be accepted by the court.  Again, the function of a voucher is to document actual payment, the recipient and the purpose.

I even looked at Black’s Law Dictionary, which defines voucher as ” … an account, receipt, or acquittance, that shows on its face the fact, authority, and purpose of the disbursement.” 

Given no hard and fast definition of a “legal voucher,” I formulated the following requirements for a voucher to be sufficient to comply with our laws:

  • A voucher must first and foremost be legal evidence that the money was disbursed for the purpose for which it is authorised or allowed.
  • It must be in writing or printed and show the payee, amount and date, and services or goods for which the disbursement was made. 
  • A check made out to “cash” , even an original canceled check is not a “legal voucher.” 

Canceled checks, whether copies or original, really only prove that a payee was paid a certain amount of money.   In some circumstances, canceled checks may not be adequate proof.  For instance, when a court has authorized the purchase of a computer for a minor ward, a canceled check to Best Buy or Sam’s Club does not prove the money was disbursed for a computer.  The check could have just as likely been used to purchase a big screen television or a new set of tires for the guardian’s car.  The same holds true for many canceled checks for clothing or personal items.  Since vouchers are supposed to be “evidence,” the better practice is for an attorney to have printed receipts that match the date and amount of a canceled check.  The guardian should provide the attorney with register tapes, tags or price stickers from the items purchased to prove that the disbursements were actually made for the ward and not for another party or purpose.

The best yardstick that both a judge and attorney could employ in determining the adequacy of a voucher would be to ask whether or not the proof would be of such a nature and sufficiency to be admissible as evidence at a trial and contains all the information necessary to convince the average person that the disbursement was made for what the guardian claimed it was made.

It took me a little time, digging and thought to arrive at my conclusions, but I had Professor Champion’s wisdom as a starting point and a reminder that sometimes we can practice law so long that we lose touch with what the law is.

A FEW RANDOM PROBATE MATTERS

September 17, 2010 § 4 Comments

[This information comes from the outline of a presentation made by Bob Williford to the Chancery Judges Spring Conference earlier this year.  Used with  his permission.]

Necessity to join specific or general legatees in petition to close the estate:

If a beneficiaries who have received specific or general bequests under the will have signed receipts, or the personal representative has produced cancelled checks showing the bequests have been satidfied, it is not necessary to have the beneficiaries join in the petition to close the estate; only the approval of the residuary beneficiaries would be essential.

Timely probate of will:

An extended period of time after the death of the testator does not prevent a will from being probated.  Harrison v. Gatewood, 51 So.2d 59 (Miss. 1951).  

Statement of compliance:

When closing the estate, the court order authorizes payment of final expenses and distribution of the remaining assets of the estate.  It is a common practice that, once the order is signe the assets are distributed and the estate is accepted as being closed.  A Statement of Compliance, however, may be appropriate.  It would state that the final expenses have been paid and the final distributions made, and it should be filed with the court.   

ANATOMY OF A WILL CONTEST: PROVING LACK OF TESTAMENTARY CAPACITY

September 14, 2010 § 6 Comments

Before the contestants in a will contest may proceed, the proponents of the will must first establish their position that the will is valid.

In Estate of Holmes, 961 So.2d 674, 679 (Miss. 2007), the Mississippi Supreme Court stated:

The proponents of the will meet their burden of proof by the offering and receipt of the will into evidence and the record of probate. [Citation omitted] The proponents make a prima facie case solely on this proof. Id. The burden then shifts to the contestants to overcome the prima facie case, but the burden of proof remains with the proponents to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the testator had capacity. Id.

The proponents typically make a prima facie case by admitting into evidence the will, the witness affidavits, the order granting letters testamentary, and the letters testamentary.

In order to determine testamentary capacity, the trial court must consider three factors:

  1. Whether the testator had the ability at the time of making his will to understand the nature and effect of his acts.
  2. Whether the testator had the ability at the time of making his will to understand the natural objects or persons to receive his bounty and their relation to him; and
  3. Whether the testator was capable of determining at the time of making the will what disposition he desired to make of his property.  Estate of Holmes, Id.

“In considering all the evidence, some testimony will receive greater weight. The testimony of subscribing witnesses receives greater weight than the testimony of witnesses who were not present at the will’s execution … The date of execution is the most important date, given that we recognize that a testator may not possess capacity one day and within several days have the capacity to execute a valid will.”  Rocco v. Sims, 918 So.2d 864, 871-872 (Miss. App. 2005).

The same capacity that is required to make a valid deed is required the for making a valid will.  Whitworth v. Kines, 604 So.2d 225, 228 (Miss. 1992).   Since the party seeking to set aside a deed must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the grantor lacked mental capacity at the time of execution, and not simply that the grantor suffered general weakness.  In re Conservatorship of Cook, 937 So.2d 467, 470 (Miss. App. 2006), it would follow that the same standard of proof would apply to a case in which the party seeks to set aside a will on the same basis. 

 

PROBATE IN SOLEMN FORM

August 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

[This outline is based on the 15th Chancery Court District Newsletter published by Chancellor Ed Patten]

Petition filed to probate will in solemn form.

  • Notice to all interested persons.  § 91-7-19, MCA.
  • Process is issued under Rule 81, MRCP.
  • At the petition of either party, the issue of devisavit vel non — whether the will is the valid last will and testament of the decedent — may be tried.

Hearing.

  • Either party may request a jury trial.  § 91-7-19, MCA.
  • Burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence.
  • If the will has already been admitted to probate in common form, the prima facie burden of proof has been met, and the burden of proof shifts to the contestants to overcome thr proponent’s prima facie proof as to the will’s validity.  § 91-7-27, MCA.
  • Tactical advantage if the will has already been admitted to probate in common form.  § 91-7-29, MCA.

Adjudication.

  • Binding on those made parties to the proceeding. 

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with Estates at The Better Chancery Practice Blog.