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Probate court properly ruled that beneficiary owed $40,000 to estate

The court held that the probate court did not err in considering evidence that the respondent-PR owed the estate for an unpaid loan and the probate court's factual findings were not clearly erroneous. It also held that the probate court did not abuse its discretion in assessing the surcharge against respondent for unpaid rent. The case arose out of a will contest between petitioner and respondent, who are siblings. Respondent's previous marriage was annulled in 2008. As part of the judgment of annulment, she was required to reimburse Stewart Ellsworth Hummer, Sr., (the decedent) $40,109 for a loan he made to her. The will provided that respondent and petitioner were each entitled to a 50% share of the estate's assets after the grandchildren each received gifts of $25,000. It did not define the extent of the estate's assets. Though respondent's arguments on appeal centered around whether the probate court's determination was an improper use of extrinsic evidence, the probate court's determination at issue on appeal was not related to the admission of extrinsic evidence in interpreting the will. "The will plainly provided that petitioner and respondent were to evenly split decedent's estate after the distribution to the grandchildren. However, it was unclear what assets were included within the estate, particularly, whether respondent, in her individual capacity, owed the estate $40,109. In considering testimony about the loan, the probate court was not interpreting the will, but rather was attempting to define the extent of the estate's assets. This did not amount to error." Petitioner sought, among other things, "an accounting of the estate. The will did not specify the estate's assets. Thus, it was necessary for the probate court to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the extent of the estate's assets." Further, to the extent that respondent argued that the probate court erred as to its factual findings, having reviewed the record, the court was "not left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake was made." Respondent admitted that, "pursuant to the order of annulment, she owed decedent $40,109 and she agreed that she had not repaid the loan." She argued that the trial court erred in failing to consider her testimony that decedent forgave her debt. However, the probate court found that "the only evidence supporting respondent's contention that the debt had been forgiven was her own self-serving testimony." It was not required to find her credible simply because there was no conflicting testimony. Importantly, the court "will defer to the probate court on matters of credibility, and will give broad deference to findings made by the probate court because of its unique vantage point regarding witnesses, their testimony, and other influencing factors not readily available to the reviewing court." Affirmed.

Antenuptial agreement held to be valid and enforceable

The court held that the parties' antenuptial agreement was valid and enforceable, concluding that to invalidate it on the basis of one party's fault would contravene the agreement's clear and unambiguous language, and that as a matter of law, the...

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