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PROBATE 40: THE PROBATE COURT HAS JURISDICTION OVER PROPERTY INTERESTS OF A PROTECTED INDIVIDUAL THAT WERE TRANSFERRED BEFORE A CONSERVATORSHIP CAME INTO EFFECT.

On October 24, 2016, Petitioner filed a complaint as the Ward’s conservator and guardian against Respondent.  Petitioner and Respondent are siblings and the children of the Ward.  In the complaint, Petitioner alleged that she filed a petition for appointment as the Ward’s guardian and conservator because the Ward was unable to know the extent of or manage her assets. However, after the petition was filed, but before the probate court had appointed Petitioner as conservator and guardian, the Ward signed two deeds purporting to transfer the real property to Respondent and herself as joint tenants with full rights of survivorship. Petitioner further alleged that the Ward did not remember signing the deeds and did not understand their importance. Petitioner maintained that Respondent did not provide good and valuable consideration for the transfer and that he exerted undue influence over their mother. Petitioner asked the probate court to determine that the Ward was not competent at the time of the transfer, that there was not good consideration paid for the property, and that Respondent exercised undue influence over the Ward and to thus set aside the deeds. Petitioner filed a notice of lis pendens announcing the pendency of the action to set aside the deeds and clouding the title to the Farm Property. After extended litigation, the parties, through their counsel as well as the Ward’s independently-appointed counsel and her guardian ad litem, agreed to the entry of a stipulated order settling all claims. The stipulated order asserted that it resolved all issues in the action and dismissed with prejudice any remaining claims. Despite having agreed to the settlement, Respondent refused to sign the mortgage and note as required. Petitioner thus asked the probate court to order Respondent to sign the mortgage and note or, in the alternative, to place a lien on the real property. Although Respondent sought to void the probate court’s previous actions, alleging that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction and claiming fraud on account of the probate court’s refusal to accept the legitimacy of the Ward’s original transfer of the Farm Property, the probate court entered a lien on the property in favor of the conservatorship, released the notice of lis pendens, and ordered that Petitioner quitclaim the property to Respondent subject to the lien. Respondent now appeals.


SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

First, Respondent argues that the probate court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because its order affected a property interest purportedly transferred before the conservatorship came into effect. We disagree. “Whether a court has subject-matter jurisdiction is a question of law reviewed de novo.” The probate court’s jurisdiction is established by statute. MCL 700.1302(c) provides that the probate court has exclusive legal and equitable jurisdiction over conservatorship proceedings. The probate court also has concurrent legal and equitable jurisdiction to determine the property rights or interests of protected individuals.

CONSERVATOR AS HEIR

Next, citing MCR 5.407, Respondent argues that the settlement was invalid because Petitioner, as the Ward’s daughter, would benefit from it at the time of the Ward’s death as one of the Ward’s intestate heirs. We disagree. MCR 5.407 provides: A conservator may not enter into a settlement in any court on behalf of the protected person if the conservator will share in the settlement unless a guardian ad litem has been appointed to represent the protected person’s interest and has consented to such settlement in writing or on the record or the court approves the settlement over any objection. It is undisputed that Petitioner was a direct heir to the Ward and, because the Ward did not have a will, that she would receive an intestate share of the Ward’s estate after her death. However, because the Ward’s guardian ad litem (as well as her court-appointed attorney) consented to the settlement and the trial court approved the settlement as submitted, even assuming Petitioner might benefit at some future date as a result of the preservation of the Ward’s assets, the prohibition set forth MCR 5.407 is not implicated and provides no basis for appellate relief.

FACING PROBATE AND ESTATE ADMINISTRATION

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