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PROBATE 24: Appellant’s willful noncompliance resulted in contempt of court and four days in jail.

The decedent died intestate on February 10, 2017, leaving several children as his descendants. The probate court appointed R as the personal representative of the estate. R had Appellant and two of his siblings bid on the subject automobile after they had expressed an interest in it. R testified that despite an array of competing bids, none of the family members ever provided any money to him. Consequently, R sold the vehicle to the buyer. When the buyer attempted to claim possession of the vehicle, he was precluded from doing so by Appellant.

After a hearing, the probate court approved of R’s sale of the vehicle, noting Appellant’s failure to pay the purchase price in a reasonable time and R’s discovery of a willing buyer. The probate court ordered Appellant to turn the vehicle over to R, but when Appellant refused to do so, he was found in contempt of court and sentenced to time in jail.

Subsequently, Appellant moved the probate court to remove R as personal representative of the estate while R moved the probate court to allow Appellant to keep the vehicle but to deduct $2,000 from Appellant’s share of the estate to pay the buyer along with $1,000 from his share to pay for attorney fees and costs arising out of Appellant’s wrongful retention of the vehicle. Appellant objected, citing that the vehicle was not worth that amount and that R had breached an array of duties to the estate. At no point during R’s appointment as personal representative does it appear he was doing anything but acting in the best interests of the estate. The probate court entered an order adopting R’s plan.

The probate court did not abuse its discretion in granting R’s petition because a probate court may issue equitable relief in the distribution of a decedent’s estate, in determining heirs’ property interests, and in determining heirs’ rights to a decedent’s property. MCL 700.1302(a)(ii) and (iii); MCL 700.1303(1)(a).

Despite the probate court’s order requiring Appellant to return the vehicle to R, Appellant refused to do so. Appellant’s willful noncompliance resulted in him being held in contempt of court and a sentence of four days in jail. Yet, even so, he still refused to turn the vehicle over to the personal representative.

The probate court’s order authorizing R to deduct $3,000 from Appellant’s distributive share of the estate’s residue allowed for the expedient administration of the estate and its closure. Thus, the probate court did not abuse its discretion in authorizing this partial distribution, as it properly invoked its equitable jurisdiction and authority.

Aldrich Legal Services represents clients in a wide range of probate litigation matters. Given the emotional nature of these disputes and their financial impact on all involved, it is critical that anyone involved in such a dispute retain highly qualified legal counsel.

In addition to representing local clients, we have assisted many out-of-state clients who have required legal representation to resolve probate disputes here in Michigan.

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