Because the Parties had Reached an Agreement on all the "Essential Terms", Master in Chancery Zurn Grants Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement Reached in an Estate Dispute

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.


William M. Kelleher, Director
Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella, P.A.