Many of us have experienced beneficiaries who want their money the day after the decedent dies! In a recent case, the court determined that the personal representative did everything right and, in fact, the disgruntled beneficiary created many of the issues.
In Victoria Cartelli v. Walter Alistair Green, mother passed away in 2011, and an adult child was appointed personal representative (the “PR”) in an ancillary probate for real estate located in Florida. The will directed that the real estate be sold “as soon as practicable”. The real estate was sold in 2013.
The PR filed a final accounting and a petition for discharge. A half- sibling objected, stating that, as the PR was not diligent in selling the real estate, the estate had to pay additional $30,000 in expenses, the estate lost potential rental income and while the PR claimed the tangible personal property (“TPP”) was worthless, offered to pay $10,000 for it.
In the trial court proceeding, the PR stated that the reason the real estate took so long to sell was because the complaining half-sibling did not consent to the PR appointment. After the PR appointment, the PR and the half-sibling spent many hours negotiating over the purchase as they both wanted to purchase the real estate. The PR only offered $10,000 for the TPP as part of the purchase price to enable the purchase.
After negotiations broke down between the PR and the half-sibling, the house was listed for sale and the TPP was sold for $200. The PR’s father resided there for a short time to manage the property prior to the sale and rent was charged to cover utilities.
The trial court ruled for the PR and determined that ” the personal representative was not required to rent out the home to make a profit for the estate”, the TPP was minimal and that the father resided in the home to help with the sale.
Half-sibling appealed with arguments relating to the propriety of the trial court’s factual findings and weighing of the evidence.
The appellate court stated that “[i]t is not function of the appellate court to substitute its judgment for that of the trial court through re-evaluation of the testimony and evidence from the record on appeal before it . The test… is whether the judgment of the trial court is supported by competent evidence.”
The appellate court affirmed the trial court in finding that there was substantial competent evidence supporting the trial court decision.
ADVICE: If you are the personal representative or attorney for the personal representative, document, document, document! Unfortunately, there will be situations with disgruntled beneficiaries and no matter how well an estate is handled, some beneficiaries will never be happy. Advise them to obtain their own legal counsel, and make sure you document discussions, issues and progress.
WORD OF THE WEEK: Credibility is the quality of being trusted and believable. A court or juror determines the credibility of a witness based on the substance of the testimony, the amount of detail and the accuracy of recall of past events. A witness who contradicts him or herself or is contradicted by the testimony of other witnesses can also determine credibility. An attorney can show jurors a witness is not credible by showing: 1) inconsistent statements, 2) reputation for untruthfulness, 3) defects in perception, 4) prior convictions showing dishonesty or untruthfulness, and 5) bias. An attorney may also enhance a witness’s credibility by showing the witness has always been consistent in their statements.
GENEROSITY IS A KEY TO HAPPINESS …REACH OUT AND HELP SOMEONE TODAY!