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Blansfield v. Alumni Association of Arizona State University

Court of Chancery of Delaware

July 31, 2015

DOROTHY BLANSFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
ALUMNI ASSOCIATION OF ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY, ALUMNI ASSOCIATION OF TEMPLE UNIVERSITY and ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF WILMINGTON, Defendants.

Date Submitted: April 20, 2015.

Jeffrey M. Weiner, Esq., LAW OFFICES OF JEFFREY M. WEINER, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware; Attorneys for Plaintiff, Dorothy Blansfield.

W. Donald Sparks, II, Esq., Chad M. Shandler, Esq., Janice M. Matier, Esq., RICHARDS, LAYTON & FINGER, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware; Attorneys for Defendants Arizona State University Alumni Association and Temple University Alumni Association.

Anthony G. Flynn, Esq., Jennifer M. Kinkus, Esq., YOUNG CONAWAY STARGATT & TAYLOR, LLP, Wilmington, Delaware; Attorneys for Defendant Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Inc.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PARSONS, Vice Chancellor.

This is a dispute about who is entitled to the proceeds of an individual retirement account or "IRA" owned by the decedent. Prior to his death, the decedent allegedly attempted to name the plaintiff as the new beneficiary of this account by requesting a copy of the requisite change of beneficiary form from the bank. He did not sign or return the form, however, and died roughly three months later. The defendants, who are residual beneficiaries named in the decedent's will, contend that the IRA change of beneficiary form was ineffective because the decedent did not comply with the requisite formalities.

After limited discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment. The plaintiff asserts that the defendants are not entitled to such judgment, contending that the unsigned change of beneficiary form was effective to change the IRA beneficiary under either the common law doctrine of substantial compliance or the "clearly expressed intent" standard. The plaintiff also argues that there are disputed issues of material fact. In this regard, she avers that the decedent was incapacitated from shortly after the time he requested the change of beneficiary form until his death, and therefore could not have signed and returned the form, but that his intent to change the IRA beneficiary nevertheless should be honored.

As discussed herein, I deny the defendants' motion for summary judgment, because material issues of fact remain in dispute.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

A. Parties

Plaintiff, Dorothy Blansfield, was a cousin of the decedent, John J. Egyed, Jr. (the "Decedent"). Blansfield is one of the alternative residual beneficiaries designated by Decedent in his last will and testament. Defendants, the Alumni Association of Arizona State University ("Arizona State"), the Alumni Association of Temple University ("Temple"), and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington (the "Diocese") (collectively, the "Defendants"), are charities named as alternative residuary beneficiaries of Decedent's estate.

B. Facts

1. Natural objects of Decedent's bounty

Decedent never married nor had any children. His family apparently included only his parents and his cousin, Blansfield. Decedent's father died on April 8, 1984, and his mother died on November 20, 2007. After his mother died, Decedent allegedly became like a member of Blansfield's immediate family. Blansfield avers that, during that period, Decedent spent almost all holidays with Blansfield and her family, took vacations with her family at the beach, and visited her mother, i ...


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