May 2013

Posted May 24, 2013

Danuta Saitis, executrix of the Estate of Stefan Szewczyk, deceased v. Elizabeth L. Malatesta, C.A. No. 7492-ML (May 13, 2013)

The Plaintiff, the executrix of her father’s estate, filed this action to seek an accounting from the defendant, the decedent’s wife. Trial is scheduled to begin on July 29, 2013.  And the parties have completed discovery. The Plaintiff, however, moved to add two new counts and contends that those counts are based on information obtained during discovery.  The Defendant argued that the motion to amend should be denied because she would be unfairly prejudiced as she might need to take additional discovery and move for summary judgment on the new claims. The Defendant further argued that the scheduling order does not provide for amendment to the pleadings.

In deciding to recommend the granting the motion to amend, Master LeGrow, explained that the fact that the scheduling order did not expressly allow amendments was not a bar to amendments. Further, the Master found that even if additional discovery were needed, and even if that resulted in pushing back the trial date, that was not reason to deny the motion.

Posted May 23, 2013

Taglialatela v. Galvin, C.A. No. 5841-MA (May 14, 2013)

       In this case, after conducting a trial on the merits, Master Ayvazian has recommended removal of a trustee on the grounds that hostility between the beneficiaries  has interfered with the proper administration of the trust.

       The settlor and his wife had six children.  One of their daughters was named the trustee of the trust at issue.  The Master’s ruling pointed out that the attorney who drafted the trust agreement was at the time of the drafting romantically involved with the daughter that was named trustee by that agreement.  The settlor’s wife died a few years later and, approximately seven years later in 2009, the settlor’s health declined and a professional guardian company became his guardian. The settlor died in 2010. During the last years of the settlor’s  life quite a few heated disputes arose among the settlor’s children that focused on control of the settlor’s person and his property.

       One of the beneficiaries petitioned to remove the trustee on the grounds that the trustee might be self-dealing, that she refused to explain her actions, and because she was allegedly causing unnecessary expense for the beneficiaries. The only property in the trust was real property that had been sold in 2010. The trust now holds only the proceeds of that sale. The beneficiaries have yet to receive any distributions.The Master found that the settlor wanted his children to receive an inheritance after his death. But his probate estate had been exhausted to pay creditors.

       In reaching her ruling, the Court noted that “[i]t is not necessary for a court to establish that a trustee has committed a breach of trust if: ‘the court, having due regard for the expressed intention of the trustor and the best interests of the beneficiaries, determines that . . . there exists . . . hostility between the trustees and the beneficiaries that threatens the efficient administration of the trust. 12 Del. C. 3327(3)(c).’”

       Consequently, the Court found that it was in the best interests of the beneficiaries for the trustee to be removed and for a successor trustee to be appointed to wind up the trust as soon as possible.  The settlor had named a successor trustee (another daughter)  in the instrument, and the Master’s decision provides that that named successor trustee advise the Court within 30 days of the final order whether she is willing to accept appointment.  The Master also required the removed trustee to provide an accounting.

Posted May 13, 2013

In the matter of Trust Under the Will of Elizabeth Williams Vale for the Benefit of Frederic B. Asche, Jr., C.A. No. 7662-ML (April 29, 2013)

PNC Delaware Trust Company amended its petition for instructions in the face of an executrix of a Texas estate contending that the Trustee should distribute the Trust immediately pursuant to a Texas Probate Court Order and under the terms of a disputed power of appointment that is the subject in an ongoing will contest in a Texas court.  The contestants in that Texas action asked that the Trustee continue to hold and manage the assets until the will contest was decided.

The executrix relied upon the Probate Order which provided that the decedent’s will had been valid and executed while he was of sound mind.  Master LeGrow pointed out that this quasi-administrative proceeding was uncontested and convened without notice to the will contestants.  Because the contestants had challenged the will directly, objecting to an immediate distribution in this matter was not a direct challenge to the Texas Probate Order.  To view it otherwise, would “mean that if an independent executor attempts to gather an asset, the ownership of which is disputed, no court in the land can enter an order respecting that asset, other than the court that appointed the executor.”

Likewise, Master LeGrow determined that although the Probate Order was final for the purposes of taking an appeal, because the issue of the decedent’s testamentary capacity had not been made final by the probate order, entry of an order instructing the Trustee to hold and manage the trust assets through the pendency of the Texas will contest would not be in violation of the Full Faith and Credit Act.

This is a draft report, and exceptions have been taken.

Posted May 1, 2013

In re the Adoption of C.A.H.W. File No. 95–05–03–A (March 28, 2013)

In 1995, “for the purposes of financial and estate planning and to formalize the close emotional relationship existing between them,”  the Petitioner H.M.A. legally adopted Respondent C.A.H.W. At the time of that adoption and for fifteen years thereafter, Delaware did not recognize civil unions. In 2011, however, Delaware passed a bill allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions with all the rights and responsibilities of marriage under Delaware Law. Delaware’s governor signed that bill into law on May 11, 2011, and same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil unions since January 1, 2012.

H.M.A. and C.A.H.W. desired to enter into a civil union, and thus, sought relief pursuant to Family Court Civil Rule 60(b)(5) and 60(b)(6), arguing that it is no longer equitable for the decree of adoption to apply prospectively.

Delaware law prohibits civil union between a person and his “ancestor” or “descendant”, among others. But noting that the court can reopen and vacate adoptions in limited circumstances, the Family Court of Delaware for Sussex County, per  Judge Ryan, vacated the adult adoption on equitable grounds, upon a finding of “extraordinary circumstances” so that the parties could enter into a civil union.

In sum, while court orders are rarely vacated, the circumstances here were such that equity dictated that it be done.