In Estate Dispute Involving All Pro Se Parties, Master Recommends Dismissal of All Claims

Delaware Fiduciary Litigation Blog

Posted September 4, 2019

IMO the Estate of Evelyn Chambers, C.A. No. 2018-0630-SEM (August 29, 2019)

       This is a case about a dispute among three siblings. Two of the siblings (the “Petitioners”) accused their brother (the “Respondent”), as the executor of their mother’s estate, of breaching his fiduciary duties in administering the estate. All of the parties were pro se. Respondent moved to dismiss the complaint and the Master in Chancery granted the motion. This was the Master’s final report.

       Understanding that the Petitioners were pro se, the Master garnered from the petition that the Petitioners had accused the Respondent of the following: breach of fiduciary duty; failure to distribute non-probate assets; and failure to pay for services rendered.

       Regarding the specific breaches of fiduciary duties, the Petitioners alleged that the Respondent sold the decedent’s house and kept the proceeds; failed to communicate with the Petitioners; and failed to repay or reimburse them for the funeral expenses. Recognizing the liberal notice pleading standard but also acknowledging that she need not accept conclusory allegations unsupported by specific facts or draw unreasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the Master found that allegations in the petition failed to state a claim for breach of fiduciary duty. As to each of the aforementioned alleged breaches, Petitioners failed to state a claim because (1) the house had been bequeathed to the Respondent, (2) the Petitioners failed to allege what information, if any, the Respondent failed to communicate, and (3) they had failed to allege that the Respondent declined to repay or refund the funeral expenses.  

       Regarding the failure to distribute non-probate assets, the Master held that this was essentially a breach of contract claim whereby Respondent allegedly agreed to split the proceeds of the decedent’s home with the Petitioners. The Master found that the Petitioners failed to sufficiently plead that a contract was formed between them and the Respondent. At best, the Petitioners pleaded that the decedent wanted the house sold and the proceeds distributed equally among her children. There were no facts in the petition to suggest that there was a contract between them and Respondent. As with the previous claim, the Master considered Petitioners’ claim that Respondent failed to pay for services rendered to constitute a breach of contract claim. And likewise, the Master dismissed it for failing to allege the existence of a contract.

Author(s)

Phillip Giordano, GF&M Law
Associate
Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella, P.A.