November 2013

Posted November 21, 2013

Nancy B. Minieri, et al. v. Diane E. Bennett, C.A. No. 4792-ML (November 13, 2013)

In this case, Master LeGrow wrote a 45-page post-trial opinion that addressed undue influence claims. The Petitioners argued that the “gifts” the Decedent made to the Petitioners’ sister, who was also the Decedent’s daughter (“Ms. Bennett”), during the Decedent’s lifetime – including the funding of a significant addition to Ms. Bennett’s house, naming Ms. Bennett as the beneficiary of most of the Decedent’s bank accounts, and transferring certain jewelry, personal property, or other funds to Ms. Bennett – were not of the Decedent’s own volition, but instead were the product of undue influence exerted on the Decedent by Ms. Bennett. The Petitioners contended that, because Ms. Bennett was in a confidential relationship with the Decedent at the time the transfers were made, the usual presumption that an inter vivos transfer was not tainted by undue influence does not apply, and Ms. Bennett bears the burden of establishing the absence of undue influence.

The Master explained that “[t]here is a presumption under Delaware law that both inter vivos transfers of wealth, and wills and other testamentary documents, are the product of the donor’s or testator’s free will and are not tainted by undue influence.” She went on to say that “[c]hallenges to inter vivos gifting or testamentary dispositions of property based on claims of undue influence require the Court to evaluate five elements: (1) the susceptibility of the donor to undue influence, (2) the opportunity to exert undue influence, (3) disposition or motive to do so for an improper purpose, (4) actual exertion of undue influence, and (5) a result demonstrating its effect.” The Master explained that the party challenging a transfer as tainted by undue influence ordinarily bears the burden of proving these elements by a preponderance of the evidence but that that burden shifts if the challenging party shows by clear and convincing evidence that the party allegedly inducing the transfer was in a fiduciary or confidential relationship with the donor.

After describing in detail her factual findings and the trial testimony at issue, the Master found that two of the five elements (opportunity and motive) existed here.  But after acknowledging a doctor’s finding that Decedent was in early stages of Alzheimer’s (albeit seemingly treated with some drugs that would slow its progression) and noting that a second doctor had found that the Decedent had “some memory problems typical of her age,” the Master found that the Petitioners had failed to show that the Decedent was susceptible to undue influence during most of the period at issue (not until September 2008), including during the time during which the Decedent agreed to pay for the home addition project, which by the way, the Decedent was to reside in. Notably, the Master’s opinion mentions several times the various evidence that showed that Decedent had maintained her “strong-willed” personality up until at least September 2008. In that regard, the Master wrote, “the evidence presented at trial showed that, although she may have had memory lapses and occasional difficulties with self-care, and although she plainly felt more comfortable living in Ms. Bennett’s home than by herself, the Decedent remained opinionated, strong-willed, and independent until the last few months of her life.”

Posted November 13, 2013

Pinno v. Pinno, et al. C.A. #7878 & ROW #153951-N (November 5, 2013)


The Register of Wills issued a Rule to Show Cause as to why three estate administrators should not be removed for their failure to file a timely accounting. At the hearing, two of the three administrators appeared and explained the delays. The third (“Lawrence”) did not appear and the Master recommended that the Court enter an order removing him.


This case involved some additional unusual facts. Namely, Lawrence called the Master directly and reached her on her private line in chambers. Upon realizing that he was a party to a pending matter, the Master provided her assistant’s contact information and terminated the call. The following day, less than three hours before the hearing that Lawrence had requested, the Master received by facsimile a letter from Lawrence. The letter, which the Master described as both “disrespectful and inaccurate,” indicated that Lawrence was refusing to appear at the hearing that afternoon. It read, “I will not be attending your Hearing [sic] this afternoon, as it bodes ill when a Judicial Officer hangs up the telephone on an innocent person who is not involved in a contested case, but merely an informant trying to do his duty to the Court, the Register and the system in general. I am not about to drive for 6 hours to have my head handed to me, although that might be interesting, as it is Halloween and I need a costume.” The Master also pointed out that Lawrence “has been abusive to this Court and the Register of Wills staff, to say nothing of his treatment of [the other two administrators], their counsel, or the third party vendor hired . . . to move the Decedent’s personal property out of the home.”


Regarding the accounting at issue, the other two administrators explained at the hearing that among other difficulties, Lawrence was refusing to sign the accounting, creating an impasse. To remove to the impasse and because Lawrence was neglecting his duties as administrator, the Master recommended his removal.

Posted November 4, 2013

IMO The Estate of Leonard Rich, KC-ROW #F03072007R (October 29, 2013)

Pursuant to Chancery Court Rule 144(a)(1), Master Pro Hac Vice Poppiti issued a report on exceptions to the final accounting, as filed collectively by four beneficiaries of the estate.

In so doing, the Master succinctly stated the three-factor test to use when analyzing the appropriateness of deductions: 1) relevance,  2) reasonableness, and 3) timeliness. He explained that “[t]his is not new case law but rather the synthesis of so many wise Chancery decisions over the years. The factors are intertwined yet unique, and as seen in the case at bar, one factor can be so strong as to be determinative.” In this case, the Master dismissed all the exceptions, save one.

The Court disallowed a limousine bill of $575.00. Regarding that cost, the Master stated that “paying for a limousine was possibly relevant and possibly reasonable, but it certainly was not timely. Generally, at the time of burial, the funeral home will offer a limousine to the decedent’s family as part of its overall services; family members, fraught with grief, are not then burdened with driving from say, the church to the gravesite. In the present case, the Administratrix hired a limousine five years after burial to transport some family members to the unveiling of the headstone. The expense was appropriate at the time of burial but not five years later.”

Posted November 4, 2013

Damiano v. Damiano Estate, et al., C.A. No. 6396-ML (October 24, 2013)


The Petitioner alleged that the Decedent withdrew $20,000 from his account two days before his untimely death and used those funds to obtain a treasurer’s check payable to his father (“Decedent’s Father”).  Petitioner, who was the Decedent’s wife, contends that the Decedent and Decedent’s Father agreed that Decedent’s Father would hold the funds in trust for the Decedent for a period of time, and would later return those funds to the Decedent.  The Respondents disputed those facts, but said that that dispute was of no moment as upon issuance, the treasurer’s check became an obligation of the issuing bank, payable to Decedent’s Father upon demand, and therefore not an asset of the estate. The Master, however, disagreed that the factual dispute was irrelevant, finding that the “factual issue of whether the Decedent and Decedent’s Father agreed that the funds would be held in trust precludes summary judgment in this matter.” More specifically, the Master explained that, “[e]ven if the respondents are correct that a treasurer’s check purchased by a [Decedent] before his death is not an asset of the estate, but instead a contract between the bank and the payee named on the check, the respondents have offered no authority that this rule overrides an agreement between two parties that the funds would be held in trust once paid by the bank.”