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PROBATE 32: Can you file a breach of fiduciary duty complaint for a disagreement related to the estate?

Plaintiff filed this action against defendant, who is the personal representative of the estate of plaintiff’s father.

Plaintiff’s father died on June 17, 2015. Following his death, estate proceedings were initiated in Washtenaw Probate Court, and defendant was appointed by the court as personal representative of the estate.  The only significant asset was a residential property in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

While the estate proceedings were ongoing, in November 2016, plaintiff filed a separate complaint in Washtenaw Circuit Court claiming that she held a mortgage and promissory note on the home; plaintiff sought to foreclose on the property and quiet title in her name. The circuit court property dispute was transferred to the probate court and consolidated with the estate proceedings.

Notably, on August 8, 2017, the judge entered an order concluding that plaintiff had not shown that she was entitled to enforce the note and mortgage that was in her possession, which had been given by her father to his parents. The judge held plaintiff failed to demonstrate she had personally acquired any rights under the note and mortgage. Accordingly, the judge rejected plaintiff’s request to foreclose and to quiet title to the property in her name.

On May 16, 2017, while the consolidated estate and foreclosure proceedings were still pending, plaintiff filed in the probate court a complaint alleging 17 counts against defendant in her capacities as an individual, as personal representative of the estate, and as attorney for the personal representative of the estate.

In an October 26, 2017 order, the trial court granted summary disposition to defendant on all of plaintiff’s claims except for two. The trial court permitted plaintiff’s action to proceed on her claims of breach of contract and unjust enrichment (Counts I and II), and these claims were only allowed to proceed against defendant in her capacity as personal representative. Following a bench trial, the judge entered judgment in favor of defendant, concluding that plaintiff had failed to establish her claims for breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

The common theme of these claims was that plaintiff disagreed with various actions taken by defendant related to the estate and such actions therefore constituted a breach of defendant’s fiduciary duty. Plaintiff cites no authority for the proposition that her mere disagreements with the decisions of defendant as the personal representative establishes that defendant breached her fiduciary duty.

Defendant had a duty to act in the best interests of the estate, MCL 700.3703(1). However, plaintiff argued that defendant’s fiduciary duty was to accede to plaintiff’s precise demands and make decisions about matters involving the estate that were in accordance with the outcomes plaintiff desired. Clearly, this is not the nature of a personal representative’s fiduciary duty.

The claims for breach of fiduciary duty in plaintiff’s first amended complaint contain no allegations, beyond plaintiff’s mere subjective and conclusory assertions of disagreement with defendant’s decisions, as to how any of defendant’s actions were legally improper such that they constituted a breach of fiduciary duty.

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.

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MICHIGAN REAL ESTATE 95: Property owners did not place a condition upon the delivery of the deed; rather, they delivered the deed to themselves.

When the delivery of a deed is contingent upon the happening of some future event, title to the subject property will not transfer to the grantee until the event has occurred. However, in this case A and J did not place a condition upon the delivery of the deed; rather, they delivered the deed to themselves, then deposited the deed with their attorney with the instruction to record the deed only upon the happening of a future event, thereby placing a condition only upon the recording of the deed.

MICHIGAN PROBATE 57: Brother granted permanent guardianship of siblings.

At a multiday hearing to address the extension of the guardianship, the eldest children, the mother’s relatives and friends, and school personnel testified regarding the mother’s care of the children, appellant’s treatment of and interaction with the children, and the eldest siblings’ role in aiding the mother to raise the children.

FAMILY LAW 88: The trial court found that the children did not have an established custodial environment with defendant because, before the separation, he did not have a large role in the children’s lives.

The trial court credited plaintiff’s testimony that, before the parties’ separation, defendant spent minimal time helping to care for the children, so its finding that the children would not have looked to defendant for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort during that time was not against the great weight of the evidence.

REAL ESTATE 89: RM had not included any language in the deed providing that the property was a joint tenancy with full rights of survivorship, the property instead became a tenancy in common.

RM drafted the deed without seeking counsel and mistakenly believed that, if either she or FK died, the property would fully pass to the surviving tenant. FK’s will provided that if his wife predeceased him—which she did—the personal representative of his estate should sell any residual property that he owned and divide the cash proceeds equally among his surviving children.

FAMILY LAW 83: A trial court can terminate a parent’s rights and permit a stepparent to adopt a child.

A trial court has discretion to terminate a parent’s rights and permit a stepparent to adopt a child when the conditions of MCL 710.51(6) are met. MCL 710.51(6)(b) requires the petitioner to establish that the other parent had the ability to visit, contact, or communicate with the children, and substantially failed or neglected to do so for a period of two years.

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