SWEEPING DUSTBUNNIES

November 18, 2010 § 2 Comments

Have you ever noticed that mistakes and missteps seem to pile up in some cases despite your best efforts, just like those dustbunnies that pile up under that buffet in your dining room no matter how hard you try?

The case of Estate of Bellino v. Bellinodecided by the Court of Appeals on November 2, 2010, is one of those “dustbunny” cases, and it merits your attention.  For ease of following this, we’ll mark the dustbunnies as they accrue with the international dustbunny symbol: ¤.   

Stephen and Margaret Bellino were married in 1974.  During the marriage, Stephen inherited $200,000 and opened a securities account with A. G. Edwards (AGE).  In 1995, he and Margaret executed a joint account agreement declaring the account to be a joint tenancy with right of survivorship.

Alas, the marriage foundered, and the erstwhile blissful couple faced off in court.  Their marriage ended May 2, 2006, with entry of a final judgment of divorce. 

And that is when the discombobulating deluge of dustbunnies (¤) began to develop.

It seems that the divorce judgment made no mention of the AGE account.  That would be the first ¤. 

Stephen became aware of the problem when he tried to make a withdrawal and was refused by AGE, which took the position that it could not allow any withdrawals until the court addressed the ownership issue.  Another ¤.

Stephen filed an MRCP Rule 59 motion to alter or amend the judgment to address the oversight.  Only problem is that he waited until May 15, 2006.  That would be a major ¤ because it was filed more than ten days after entry of the judgment, and so the motion was time-barred. 

In all the hubbub surrounding the issue, Stephen never got around to changing ownership of the account.  This is one of those ¤’s that spawns lots of other ¤’s.

Before the issue could be resolved by the judge, Stephen died on June 18, 2006.  Regrettable as it is, this development was also a ¤.

Stephen’s estate was duly opened in July.  There is no mention of the estate being substituted as a party in the divorce action under MRCP 25.  Probably a ¤.

In November, the attorney for the estate approached the chancellor and, without any notice to Margaret or her attorneys, obtained an order directing AGE to pay the funds to the estate.  No question this was a ¤. 

To compound matters, the attorney for the estate never filed the order (or, it appears, any motion therefor) in either the estate or divorce file, and never served it on Margaret’s attorneys.  That would be ¤ ¤ ¤.

They’re beginning to pile up, aren’t they?

The chancellor set aside the order (he was likely not happy with the way it had been handled) and eventually ruled that the account was Margaret’s.  A ¤. 

At this point the attorney for the estate realized that the dustbunnies were getting out of hand, so he started trying to sweep them up.  The problem is that when you sweep dustbunnies it tends to scatter them and they seem to proliferate, which is exactly what they did.

The attorney for the estate filed an appeal.  Now, this is really a dustbunny because the issues are fairly straightforward and not really in doubt.  Score another ¤. 

Right off the bat the court of appeals criticized the attorney for the estate for not filing a statement of issues after being asked not once but several time by the appellate court to do so.  That would be another ¤ ¤ ¤.  The court even thought about not considering his brief, which is, of course a ¤.

The court of appeals ruled that Margaret got the money because Stephen never changed the account and it was hers by survivorship.  A predictable ¤.

Stephen’s estate will be stuck with the cost of cleaning up all these dustbunnies, and will have nothing to show for it.  That’s a ¤ right there.  In the alternative, the estate could insist that its attorney bear the cost of the appeal, which would be his own personal ¤.

So there you have it.  Too many dustbunnies and before you know it you have a mess too big to clean up.

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