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Estate of Patricia Margaret Redfield, Deceased. v. Robert Douglas Roan et al

April 5, 2011

ESTATE OF PATRICIA MARGARET REDFIELD, DECEASED. NANCY HORAN, PETITIONER AND APPELLANT,
v.
ROBERT DOUGLAS ROAN ET AL., OBJECTORS AND RESPONDENTS.



Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. KP009885 APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, R. Bruce Minto, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Aldrich, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Reversed.

INTRODUCTION

Nearly two years after the probate court approved their settlement of a will contest and dismissed with prejudice their petitions claiming that approximately $136,000 was part of the decedent's estate, respondents Robert Douglas Roan and Janet True objected to the co-administrators' accounting for failure to include that $136,000 in the estate's residue. Co-administrator Nancy Horan appeals from the trial court's judgment ordering her to return the $136,000 to the estate. We conclude that respondents are barred by the doctrine of res judicata from relitigating whether that money was part of the decedent's estate. Thus, we agree with appellant that the trial court had no jurisdiction to reopen the final judgment of the probate court approving the settlement for the purpose of recharacterizing the $136,000 as part of the estate. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

1. The decedent

Patricia Redfield was admitted to the hospital on February 24, 2004 to undergo surgery. She died on March 17, 2004. Decedent was unmarried but was survived by three children, respondents Roan and True, from whom she was estranged or had a rocky relationship, and appellant Horan, with whom she was close. The relationship between the siblings is not optimal.

Approximately a week before the surgery, the decedent delivered to appellant a signed but otherwise blank withdrawal slip from one of her bank accounts. On March 15, 2004, after receiving assurances from her doctors that the decedent was improving, appellant used the slip to withdraw $136,000,*fn1 which amount she later deposited in her own bank account. Appellant testified the money was to be used to purchase a house.

After her mother's death, respondent True filed a petition for letters of administration indicating that decedent died intestate with an estate consisting of $135,000 in personal property and $300,000 in real property.

Appellant contested the petition and, claiming that the decedent left a will, asserted her right to be appointed either executor or administrator. The purported will, attached to appellant's opposition and to her ensuing petition for letters of administration, allocated from the residue of the decedent's estate, 40 percent to appellant, the remainder to the grand- and great- grand children in 10 and 5 percentages, $1 to respondent Roan, and $10,000 in trust for respondent True. In her moving papers, appellant admitted that the formalities of the will had not been met because one or both witnesses may not have been present when the decedent signed the will.

The probate court appointed appellant and Christine Galvez, True's daughter and the decedent's granddaughter, as co-administrators, issued orders for probate, and sent the question of appointment of an administrator to mediation.

2. Respondents file Probate Code section 850 petitions to determine whether the $136,000 was part of the estate and the parties settle.

In February 2005, respondents each filed will contests and objections in the probate court. They contended that the will's witnesses were not present when the decedent purportedly signed it, in violation of Probate Code section 6110, subdivision (c).*fn2 More important, pursuant to section 850,*fn3 respondents petitioned to determine title to the $136,000, challenging the transfer of that money to appellant on the ground that it occurred immediately before the decedent's death while she ...


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