June 2017

Posted June 29, 2017

Estate of Walter E. Cannon, ROW Folio #10108 (June 28, 2017)

       The Administrator of the Estate of Walter E. Cannon failed to file the requisite Inventory and Accounting with the Register of Wills office in violation of 12 Del. C. §2301(a). The Petitioner sought the removal of the Administrator from his appointment for his alleged failure to perform official duties under 12 Del.C. §1541(a). Pursuant to Rule 194 of the Chancery Court, the court ordered a hearing to show cause, and the Administrator failed to appear at that hearing. The Administrator, who was acting pro se, also failed to submit any explanation for his noncompliance with §2301(a).

       The Vice Chancellor nonetheless continued the matter due to the concern that the Administrator perhaps did not receive actual notice of the hearing. In response, the Sussex County Register of Wills not only demonstrated that the notice was properly sent to the Administrator via both U.S. First Class Mail and Certified Mail, but also that the Administrator himself had signed a certification of receipt that was returned to the Register of Wills.

       Upon this showing of clear notice, the Vice Chancellor ordered the removal of the Administrator for his failure to perform official duties and absence at the corresponding rule to show cause hearing. The court’s order pointed out that the administrator was not discharged from any liability for his actions or inactions while serving as administrator.

Posted June 12, 2017

IMO John T. Landon, Jr. Estate, C.A. No. 5230-MZ (June 8, 2017)

       This case involved an estate dispute between a second wife and the children of the first marriage, a not unusual circumstance. When John T. Landon Jr., passed away, his will left his second wife a life estate in several real properties and named his children by his first marriage as remaindermen. Two of those children are the current executors of the estate. The second wife and children were involved in adverse litigation since 2006. But the parties appeared to have possibly settled their disputes, and the executors moved to enforce a settlement agreement. For factually specific reasons, the Master found that there was "an enforceable settlement agreement because the parties agreed on all the essential terms" and therefore the Master recommended the Court grant the executors’ motion.

       The analysis that the Master performed to determine that there was indeed an agreement was not unique to wills and trusts matters; it applies generally to motions to enforce purported settlements. The Master explained that "[a]s the parties seeking to enforce an alleged agreement, the [e]xecutors bear the burden of proving the existence of a contract by a preponderance of the evidence." (citing Schwartz v. Chase, 2010 WL 2601608, at *4 (Del. Ch. Jun. 29, 2010); Asten, Inc. v. Wangner Sys. Corp., 1999 WL 803965, at *1 (Del. Ch. Sept. 23, 1999). And in determining whether the executors had met their burden, the Master utilized the accepted standard of "whether a reasonable negotiator in the position of one asserting the existence of a contract would have concluded, in that setting, that the agreement reached constituted agreement on all of the terms that the parties themselves regarded as essential and thus that that agreement concluded the negotiations." (citing Schwartz, 2010 WL 2601608 at *4). After evaluating that question, the Master concluded that the parties had reached agreement on all the essential terms.