Thursday, March 8, 2012


PROBATE.  The word is often synonymous with controversy and has been for hundreds of years.  Probate can pit brother against brother, mother against child, cousin against uncle, etc., in ugly legal battles that last years.  Charles Dickens’ famous novel “Bleak House” fictionalized such a probate battle styled Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, in the Court of Chancery of England, a case lasting so long the legal fees exhausted the means of the entire estate.

The case of In re Estate of Mary A. Riley, 2-CA-CV2010-0149, may not be Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, but it illustrates the problems that can be found in probate battles.  In re Riley involves an estate with 13 potential beneficiaries who are battling over “inaccuracies” in the proposed accounting and distribution of the estate’s assets.   Apparently, 4 of the 13 beneficiaries reached an agreement to which the others could not agree.  The court, however, approved the compromise. 

On appeal, the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division 2, ruled that pursuant to A.R.S. § 14-3952(1) a compromise is not a compromise unless everyone agrees and signs to the terms.  Quoting the Court:

Section 14-3952(1) requires the compromise to be ‘executed by all competent persons . . . having beneficial interests or having claims which will or may be affected by the compromise.’ . . . [A] compromise that has not be executed by all the persons with beneficial interests in the estate is void. 

At the end of the day the result of the ruling means that the beneficiaries just keep fighting it out in court.  I wish the parties a speedy conclusion to this matter.