May 2023

Posted May 22, 2023

IMO the Est. of George Wroten Cordray and Robert L. Lane, Admin. for the Estate of George Wroten Cordray, C.A. No. 2022-0614-SG (May 19, 2023)

          In this case, the administrator of an intestate estate (the “Administrator”) filed a petition seeking instructions to assist in determining the decedent’s heirs.  

          In 1955, Norris Cordray killed his wife, Emma, then killed himself. A child of that marriage was George, the decedent in this case. George passed away in 1988, intestate. An estate was opened in 1988 but, notwithstanding the passing of a rather considerable amount of time, the estate remains open. The Court noted that the reasons for that long delay were not pertinent to this decision.

          A genealogical search was conducted to ascertain George’s next of kin and that investigation revealed that George’s closest relatives are descendants of his grandparents Roy Wroten and Viola Shull through Emma’s (mother’s) lineage, and grandparents George and Mary Cordray through Norris’s (father’s) lineage.

          The Administrator raised the arguable applicability of Delaware’s “Slayer Statute.” 12 Del. C. § 2322. Delaware’s Slayer Statute codified common law and provides that “[t]he slayer shall be deemed to have predeceased” the victim for purposes of inheritance.  Speaking of the Administrator, the Vice Chancellor explained, “[h]e asserts that, on account of slaying Emma, Norris not only is prohibited from benefiting from Emma’s estate; the heirs of his lineage (and, pertinently, the lineage of Norris’s parents) are likewise precluded from inheriting from Emma’s issue.” The Vice Chancellor then stated that the present question was apparently one of first impression in Delaware.

          After examining the Administrator’s position and the rather limited possibly precedential Delaware case law, the Vice Chancellor concluded that the Slayer Statute was inapplicable to this matter. Specifically the Court stated, “[b]ecause the slaying has no effect in the current situation, there is no reason to construe Section 2322 to do anything other than what it explicitly calls for—to deem Norris as the predecessor of Emma—which, again, has no effect on the issue before me.”  Further refining the point, the Court later noted that “[t]he kin of Norris who happen to be next of kin of George are not inheriting from Norris’s estate,  and are not benefiting from Norris’ actions.”

Posted May 5, 2023

IMO The Estate of Willie J. Snow, C.A. No. 2022-0106-SEM (April 26, 2023)

     In this case, Master in Chancery Molina dealt with a petition to sell real property to pay debts of an estate.  Although the Petitioner had met the statutory requirements for a sale, an “Interested Party” contested the sale on the grounds that she lived on the property since the decedent’s death and paid various related expenses.  The Master concluded that, based on the record before her, the petition should be granted.

      Section 2707 of Title 12 of the Delaware Code requires an interested party demonstrate that they contributed their “proportionable part towards payment of the outstanding debts[.]” The Master explained that case law addressing Section 2707 is sparse, but one previous case did find that Section 2707, coupled with notions of equity, supported the conclusion that parties with an equitable ownership interest in property are entitled “to prohibit the sale of the property to another upon the contribution by them to the administrator of sufficient funds to discharge the debts of the estate.” (quoting Estate of Speare).  But here, the Master found that the Interested Party failed to demonstrate proportional payment.

     Turning to 12 Del. C. § 2717, the Master explained that the court may refuse an order for sale of real estate, “if under the circumstances it is considered improper that such sale should be made, although it should sufficiently appear that the personal estate is not sufficient for the payment of the debts, or that the sale was regularly conducted.” 12 Del. C. § 2717. But the Master recommended finding that in the present case the Interested Party did not identify such circumstances.

     In conclusion, the Master stated that “[t]here is nothing in the record before me that demonstrates granting the Petition would be improper or inequitable.”  The Master went on to note that while the Interested Party “may have covered the expenses of the real property at issue without contribution from her co-owners (or conversely, lived in the Property rent free)”, that is an issue that may be resolved between the various co-owners.  The Master concluded that the just-described possibly outstanding issue was not a sufficient basis to deny the Petition and, consequently, leave the debts of the Decedent’s estate unpaid.  The Master also wrote that, “[l]ikewise, although estate administration has been slow moving, there has been no argument that the delay amounts to laches or otherwise cuts against the estate’s compelling need to sell the Property to pay the Decedent’s debts.”