Draft Report: April 17, 2014.
Exceptions Submitted: December 8, 2014.
David J. Ferry, Jr., Esquire and Brian J. Ferry, Esquire, of FERRY JOSEPH & PEARCE, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware; Attorneys for Plaintiff.
Thomas C. Marconi, Esquire of LOSCO & MARCONI, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware; Attorney for Defendants.
Abigail M. LeGrow, Master in Chancery.
A woman who intentionally misrepresented herself as the sole heir to her father's estate in order to avoid sharing the estate with her siblings and their issue now acknowledges her brother's right to a share of the estate, but contends the amount he is owed should be reduced by undocumented expenses she claims she incurred and a settlement her brother received from another defendant in this action. Because the defendant has not shown that the judgment should be reduced by either amount, her brother is entitled to one-sixth of the value of the estate and one-sixth of the proceeds from the sale of their parents' home, plus pre- and post-judgment interest and costs. This is my final report.
These are the facts as I find them after trial. The plaintiff, Jacob Harrison ("Jacob"),  and defendants, Roseann Dixon ("Roseann") and Shirley Harrison ("Shirley"), are siblings. Their parents, Remell ("Remell") and Clarence ("Clarence") Harrison, had six children between them who either survived them or predeceased them but left living issue. Remell passed away on May 24, 2004. Clarence passed away ten months later on April 7, 2005. Both died intestate. Roseann had power of attorney for both Clarence and Remell. At the time of Clarence's death, he was the sole owner of a residence located at 2919 W. 3rd Street, Wilmington, Delaware 19805 (the "Property").
Roseann was appointed as personal representative of both estates. When she applied to be appointed, and on several occasions thereafter, Roseann misrepresented to the Register of Wills that she was the sole next of kin for both of her parents. At trial, Roseann testified that she did this because her parents had instructed her to disinherit the other children. Based on her false statements identifying herself as sole heir, Roseann held herself out as the record owner of the Property and distributed her parents' estates according to what she believed their wishes to be, without regard for Delaware's intestate succession laws.
The gross amount Roseann obtained through her misrepresentations is $179, 371.69, consisting of: (1) $130, 991.62 in net proceeds from a personal injury settlement for Remell; (2) $37, 741.53 in net proceeds from the sale of the Property;(3) $5, 638.54 in net proceeds from a personal injury settlement for Clarence; and (4) a $5, 000.00 life insurance policy that was received for Clarence and used to pay his funeral expenses. Roseann cashed the checks for the personal injury settlement and the sale of the Property the same day she received them. She testified that she shared half of the proceeds with her sister Shirley and kept half for herself.
Roseann held the Property for over three years before selling it. She allowed friends and family to live in the home without paying rent or initiating eviction proceedings. At some time in 2007 or 2008, she was contacted by Delaware Investment Services ("DIS") and ultimately sold the Property to DIS in August 2008 for $56, 500.Roseann sold the property as though she were its sole owner, based on her earlier sworn misrepresentations to the Register of Wills. Three months later, DIS sold the property to Nieaishia Dollard ("Dollard") for $130, 000.00. Jacob was unaware of any of these events until he discovered that his parents' home had been sold when he performed an online search.
Jacob filed a verified complaint in December 2011 against Roseann, DIS, and Dollard alleging (1) fraudulent conveyance, (2) constructive trust, (3) a demand for an accounting, and (4) unjust enrichment. DIS and Dollard both answered the complaint and asserted crossclaims against Roseann. Roseann filed an answer in March 2012. Jacob filed an amended complaint in October 2012 naming Shirley as an additional Defendant. DIS and Dollard again answered and asserted crossclaims. A default judgment was granted against Shirley on December 14, 2012. Jacob reached a settlement with DIS and Dollard in the amount of $14, 000.00, and these two defendants were dismissed with prejudice from the case on November 15, 2013.
It is undisputed that Jacob is entitled to one"sixth of Clarence's estate under Delaware's intestacy laws; the dispute between the parties is whether that amount should be offset by certain expenses and the settlement Jacob received. Particularly, the parties dispute the amount of expenses to be deducted either from the estate or the proceeds from the sale of the Property. Roseann claims that she is entitled to deduct $40, 888.00 in expenses related to the upkeep of the Property, even though she lacks receipts for most of these expenses. The expenses include: $707.50 in Register of Wills costs, $10, 574.03 for funeral expenses for Clarence and Remell, $17, 000.00 for mortgage and utility payments from April 2005 to July 2008, $1, 960.00 for water and sewer charges from January 2006 to December 2007, $3, 991.47 for city and county property taxes, $130.00 for homeowners' insurance, $50.00 for a 2008 city code violation, $2, 000.00 to pave the backyard, $2, 975.00 for mold removal, and $1, 500.00 for weekly lawn care from October 2005 to July 2008. Additionally, she claims that the $14, 000.00 payment Jacob obtained in exchange for a release of claims against DIS and Dollard should be "credited" against the judgment he receives. Strangely, although Roseann treats these as estate expenses, she did not sell the Property as part of the probate process.
At trial, I issued a draft report from the bench concluding that Jacob Harrison is entitled to one"sixth of the net estate and one"sixth of the proceeds from the Property in the total amount of $28, 721.03, plus interest beginning in May 2006. I deemed $6, 290.26 of this judgment to be a joint and several judgment against Roseann Dixon and Shirley Harrison. ...