November 2023

Posted November 7, 2023

IMO The Estate of Thelma L. Taylor, row Folio No. 179101 DM-SEM (October 30, 2023)

        In this estate case, the Magistrate heard exceptions to an estate accounting and inventory. In so doing, the Magistrate issued an order directing the Personal Representative to file an amended inventory within thirty days and required that the amended inventory include: (1) the date-of-death value of the vehicle and bank account at issue; and (2) an itemized list of the decedent’s personal property. The Magistrate also directed that the itemized list include furniture, appliances, tools, and other personalty which were owned by the decedent at the time of her death as well as the Personal Representative’s estimation of the fair market value of those items.

        But when that deadline arrived, no such document had been filed. Very shortly thereafter, the Exceptant filed a letter asking that the Personal Representative be removed for her failure to comply with the Magistrate’s order. A few weeks thereafter the Personal Representative filed an “Amended Inventory.” And few weeks after that Amended Inventory was filed, the Exceptant filed exceptions to the Amended Inventory, contending that (1) the Personal Representative untimely filed the Amended Inventory, (2) the Amended Inventory is overly broad and inconsistent with the initial inventory’s values, and (3) the Personal Representative should be removed from her duties (the “Second Exceptions”). Additional back-and-forth followed thereafter.

        In reviewing this situation, the Magistrate noted that per 12 Del. C. § 2301(a), “[e]very executor or administrator shall render an account of their administration to the Court of Chancery, in money, every year from the date of their letters until the estate is closed and a final account passed by the Court.”

        In reaching her ruling to overrule in part and stay in part the Second Exceptions, the Magistrate explained,

Unfortunately, the record is unclear regarding the date on which the Personal Representative filed the Amended Inventory. The packet in which the Amended Inventory was contained was electronically filed on May 4, 2023, but a stamp on page eleven of the filing reflects that at least one document in that packet was received by the New Castle County Register in Chancery on April 14, 2023. Although filings for this action must be submitted to the Register of Wills, I will give the Personal Representative the benefit of the doubt and find the Amended Inventory was not sufficiently delayed to warrant sanctions or her removal for failure to comply with my prior order. Thus, the timeliness portion of the Second Exceptions is OVERRULED.

        But the Magistrate did not overrule the entirety of the exceptions and went on to state,

[t]he Exceptant’s remaining concerns regarding the substance of the Amended Inventory should, however, be STAYED. At first glance, those concerns are not frivolous, nor were they fully resolved by the Personal Representative’s response. But there is a bigger problem with this estate. The Personal Representative’s first accounting was due by October 26, 2022 and her second by October 26, 2023.  There is nothing on the docket suggesting she requested an extension from the Register of Wills for either accounting. Failure to file an accounting when due is grounds for removing an estate fiduciary and raises suspicions about the fiduciary’s service to the estate during the unaccounted-for period.

        In conclusion, the Magistrate ordered that the Personal Representative file the first and second accountings within thirty (30) days and that, if she fails to do so, a rule to show cause will be issued to her directing her to appear at a hearing and show cause why she should not be removed as the personal representative and judgment entered against her.