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In re Estate of Kelly

April 1, 2009

ESTATE OF STANLEY WADE KELLY, DECEASED.
E. GEORGE KELLY, AS ADMINISTRATOR, ETC., PETITIONER AND APPELLANT,
v.
HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN, INC., CLAIMANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Butte County, Barbara L. Roberts, Judge. Affirmed. (Super. Ct. No. PR38278).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cantil-sakauye, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Stanley Wade Kelly (Stanley) died, leaving an estate worth over a million dollars. This case involves a dispute over the distribution of his estate. Stanley's father, E. George Kelly (Kelly), contends his son died intestate and he is the sole heir. Human Rights Campaign, Inc. (HRC) contends it is the sole beneficiary under a holographic will. Kelly, as Administrator of his son's estate, appeals from an order that overruled objections to a petition for probate filed by HRC, set a time to hear the petition for probate, and did not approve Kelly's first and final report for final distribution of the estate.*fn1 Kelly contends the probate court erred in determining that the time limits of Probate Code section 8226, subdivision (c) did not apply to bar as untimely the petition for probate of the holographic will. Following the plain meaning of the statute, we conclude that section did not apply because HRC never received notice of the petition for letters of administration, as required to trigger the statute. We affirm.

FACTS

Stanley was found dead in March 2007.

Kelly petitioned for letters of administration later that month, claiming Stanley died intestate. The probate court issued letters of administration with full authority to administer the estate under the Independent Administration of Estates Act in April 2007.

In May 2007, Kelly notified HRC that it was the beneficiary of accounts Stanley had with Washington Mutual Bank.

Four years earlier, Stanley had sent HRC a holographic will that left his entire estate to HRC. HRC notified Kelly of the will in the summer of 2007. In September, HRC requested, pursuant to Probate Code section 1250, special notice of all matters relating to the estate.

In early December 2007, HRC petitioned to correct the record, admit the will to probate, designate HRC as sole testate beneficiary, revoke the order appointing Kelly as Administrator and to appoint a different Administrator.

On January 7, 2008, Kelly filed the first and final report as Administrator. The report stated that Stanley died intestate; the total assets of the estate were $1,404,735.30; and Kelly was the sole heir. It proposed distributing the entire estate to Kelly.

A few days later, on January 10, 2008, HRC petitioned to probate the will. HRC also opposed the final report of the Administrator and sought to remove Kelly as Administrator.

The parties briefed the issue of whether Probate Code section 8226 applied and whether HRC's petition to probate the will was untimely. Kelly argued he notified HRC that Stanley's estate was being administered as an intestate estate in May 2007. HRC waited 225 days to petition to probate the holographic will and thus its petition was untimely under the time limits set forth in Probate Code section 8226, subdivision (c). Kelly further argued that HRC lacked standing to object to the final report and petition for final distribution. HRC argued Kelly had a conflict of interest and that he failed to give HRC notice of the petition for letters of administration as required by Probate Code section 8110. Since proper notice was not given, the time limits of Probate Code section 8226 did not apply.

Kelly filed an amended final report as Administrator. The amended report noted the existence of the purported will, but questioned its validity.

At the hearing on the matter, the probate court noted that in the focus on Probate Code section 8226, "we've lost sight of the bigger picture here." The bigger picture was that the Administrator and his counsel had superfiduciary duties "not to mislead the court, and they have duties to make sure that the estate is probated and that it follows the wishes and the intent of the decedent." The court rejected the argument that counsel for the Administrator was placed in an adversarial position; his duty was to probate the estate, not to obtain a distribution for ...


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