Alan Secures Victory For Widow in Bitterly Contested Estate Dispute
An arbitrator has issued a decision in favor of Alan’s client in a bitterly disputed, lengthy case that has its roots in events that occurred in the early 1990s.
In late 1992, Gloria died without a will. Gloria’s husband, Peter, petitioned the Probate Court to serve as the administrator of Gloria’s estate. Unfortunately, Peter, an attorney, was not altogether attentive to administering the estate, and himself died in 2010 without having filed an “account”, typically the event that triggers distribution of the assets of the estate.
In 1997, Peter did file an “inventory” of Gloria’s estate, which listed among other assets several thousand shares of stock in a public company. However, nobody was ever able to find out what happened to the shares, as the records retention periods of the various “transfer agents” of the company’s shares had expired. Although a file from Peter’s office contained a reference to the shares having been transferred to his children, Peter, Jr. and Julie, the children both vigorously denied having received the shares, and there was no evidence suggesting that that had in fact occurred.
Peter subsequently remarried to Brenda and about five years prior to his death, transferred all of his assets to himself and Brenda jointly.
After Peter died, Peter, Jr. applied to be the successor administrator of Gloria’s estate. Almost immediately upon his appointment, Peter, Jr. sued Brenda, claiming that she “constructively received” the shares at issue (or at least the proceeds of the shares) because there was no other explanation for how the shares were disposed of.
Alan, as Brenda’s attorney, argued that a doctrine called “laches” should apply to the facts at issue. Laches is a legal principle that bars a plaintiff in certain instances from obtaining legal relief where they have unreasonably delayed in bringing suit and have impaired the defendant’s ability to adequately defend the case. In this case, Alan argued that laches should be applied because Peter, Jr. had waited until nearly 18 years after his mother’s death to take any action concerning the missing shares, thus depriving Brenda of the ability to locate any records concerning their ultimate disposition that may have been in the possession of the transfer agents.
The parties ultimately agreed to have their case submitted to arbitration before a retired judge of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. The arbitrator agreed with Alan that Peter, Jr.’s delay in taking action concerning the shares appropriately triggered the doctrine of laches, and therefore dismissed all claims against Brenda.