Master in Chancery Denies Motion for Judgement on Pleadings Based on Alleged Laches in Presentation of Copy of Purported Will

Delaware Fiduciary Litigation Blog

Posted January 3, 2023

In the Matter of the Lost Will of Elizabeth R. Clark, C.A. No. 2022-0181-SEM (December 30, 2022)

            Almost eighteen years after the decedent died, the Petitioner filed, on February 25, 2022, a petition to admit his copy of the Purported Will, in lieu of the original, to probate.  In his answer, the Movant asserted several affirmative defenses including laches. The equitable doctrine of laches prevents someone who slumbers on their rights and delays unreasonably in filing suit from being permitted to prosecute their claims. The Movant also moved for a judgment on the pleadings.

            In her opinion denying that motion, the Master explained that the accrual date of the Petitioner’s claim—which the Parties agreed does not have an analogous statute of limitations—was unclear from the pleadings. The Movant argued that the Petitioner’s claim accrued in or around the Decedent’s death, when the Petitioner received his copy of the Purported Will and failed to provide the Purported Will to the Register of Wills within the 10-day period under 12 Del. C. § 1301(a) or seek to administer the Decedent’s estate after the 60-day period in 12 Del. C. § 1505(d).  The Movant argued that the Petitioner allowed his interest in the Decedent’s estate “to linger unresolved” for eighteen years before filing this action.

            The Master saw things differently, noting that “knowledge of the Purported Will is not the same as knowledge of the instant claim to admit a copy of the Purported Will to probate. The Movant’s argument assumes that the Petitioner knew or should have known that the Decedent’s estate was not probated and his interest in the Property was unresolved in 2004 or during any of the statutory periods referenced.  That is not clear on the face of the pleadings.”

            Taking the facts in a light most favorable to the Petitioner, the Master denied the motion for judgment on the pleadings and concluded that Petitioner reasonably could have assumed decedent’s daughter was handling the estate and that he need not act.  The Master found that it is unclear when the Petitioner first became aware (or should have been aware) that the decedent’s daughter had not acted and that his purported interest in the Property was unconfirmed, compelling him to act with alacrity, an issue that cannot be fairly resolved on the pleadings.


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