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IN RE ESTATE OF HINES

July 23, 1998

IN RE ESTATE OF CHARLES H. HINES. CARYN L. HINES, APPELLANT,
V.
MARJORIE H. BURKE AND TANYA B. HALL, APPELLEES.



APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, KAYE K. CHRISTIAN, J. [715 A2d Page 117]

Before Terry, Steadman and Ruiz, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge:

This case arises out of the administration of a decedent's estate. Appellant, the court-appointed personal representative, sold the real property of the estate to herself and her brother without court permission and without the knowledge or written consent of the other heirs of the decedent. Two of those heirs, claiming that appellant had acted improperly, brought suit seeking her removal as personal representative, appointment of a successor personal representative, and nullification of the sale of the property. Ruling that appellant had breached her fiduciary duty to the estate and had acted in contravention of statute and court order, the trial court granted appellees' motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

I

Charles H. Hines died on February 25, 1981. He devised a life estate in the family home on Florida Avenue, N.W., to his wife Ruth, with the remainder to their three children, William Hines, Marjorie Burke, and Sallie Archie, in equal shares, as tenants in common. Mr. Hines' will designated William Hines as the personal representative of the estate, but William *fn1 never submitted the will to probate. William predeceased his mother and left his one-third interest in the property to his children, Caryn and Gary Hines, in equal shares. Some time thereafter Marjorie assigned one-tenth of her interest to her daughter, Tanya Hall.

On December 30, 1992, following the death of Ruth Hines, Caryn petitioned the court to appoint her as the personal representative of the estate of Charles Hines. The court issued an Abbreviated Probate Order appointing her as personal representative and requiring her to post a general bond in the amount of $1,000. The order also stated that she must file an additional bond, in an amount to be fixed by the court, before accepting assets in excess of that amount. Caryn posted a general bond in the amount of $1,000, which was never increased.

On January 29, 1993, Marjorie, Tanya, Sallie, Caryn, and Gary met at the office of Caryn's attorney to discuss what should be done with the Florida Avenue house. They agreed to retain an appraiser to determine both the fair market value and fair rental value of the property. In addition, they agreed (1) that Marjorie's daughter, Linda Johnson, could live in the house temporarily, on condition that she pay rent and not interfere with efforts to sell the property; *fn2 (2) that the property would be listed for sale with a Realtor; and (3) that the net proceeds [715 A2d Page 118]

of the sale would be distributed according to the terms of Charles Hines' will.

A few weeks later, on February 20, the property was appraised at a fair market value of $75,000. The appraiser reported, however, that the property was in need of repair after an extended period of deferred maintenance. When a further inspection revealed more than 100 housing code violations, a contractor was hired to repair and refurbish the property at a cost of about $10,000.

In May 1993 Marjorie told Caryn that she wanted to purchase the house for herself. Accordingly, on May 8 Marjorie and Caryn executed a sales contract which provided, among other things, that the sales price would be $70,000, that the property would be sold "as is," that the seller (the estate) would pay $3,000 toward the closing costs, that the seller could declare the contract null and void if the purchaser (Marjorie) failed to obtain financing within fifteen days, and that settlement was to occur within sixty days after the date of the contract.

By June 1994, Marjorie had not settled on the property, *fn3 and Caryn had received only one other offer to purchase the property. *fn3 On June 14 Caryn and her brother Gary executed a contract to purchase the property for themselves. The contract provided, among other things, that the sale price would be $70,000 and the seller (the estate) would pay $3,000 towards closing costs. Caryn signed the contract both as seller (on behalf of the estate) and as purchaser. The contract was silent as to who would pay for repairs to the house, nor did it expressly disclaim any warranties. Caryn admittedly concealed the transaction from Marjorie, *fn3 failed to obtain court approval for the purchase, and did not obtain consent for the transaction from either Marjorie or Sallie, the other two principal heirs.

On July 1, 1994, following the completion of most of the repairs, the property was reappraised at a fair market value of $84,000. Linda Johnson received a letter from the Realtor on August 22 stating that the property was about to be sold and that she would have to vacate the premises; the letter, however, did not disclose the identity of the purchasers. On September 7 Caryn and Gary closed on the purchase of the property. Some time later, in her Second and Final Account as personal representative, Caryn reported to the court that the estate had received $60,481.15 from the sale of the property to herself and her brother Gary.

Marjorie thereupon filed a complaint seeking Caryn's removal as personal representative and asking the court to set aside the sale of the property; her daughter Tanya later joined as a co-plaintiff. In her answer to the complaint, Caryn admitted that she had sold the house to herself and her brother without the knowledge and consent of either Marjorie or Sallie, each of whom held a one-third interest. She also admitted that she had paid only $70,000, which was $14,000 less than the appraised value of the property at the time of the sale. Along with her answer, Caryn filed a motion seeking nunc pro tunc authorization of the sale. The parties then filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the court ...


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