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In re Estate of James

January 13, 2000

IN RE ESTATE OF RAYMOND JAMES. RONALD R. JAMES, APPELLANT.


Before Steadman, Schwelb, and Reid, Associate Judges.

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

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Cheryl M. Long, Trial Judge)

Argued December 1, 1999

Appellant Ronald R. James, personal representative of the estate of Raymond James, challenges a ruling of the trial court determining that the expenses of estate administration do not take priority over payment of the statutory family allowance disbursement. We affirm the court's ruling. We conclude that D.C. Code § 19-101 (a) gives the $10,000.00 family allowance disbursement priority over the payment of all costs of ongoing estate administration, including expenses for the maintenance of estate property and related attorney fees.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

This matter arises from the administration of the estate of Raymond James. Mr. James died on September 4, 1995. Two months prior to his death, on July 26, 1995, he refinanced his home at 24 Tuckerman Street, N.W., in the amount of $97,500.00. He signed a 15-year promissory note requiring him to initiate monthly payments beginning September 1, 1995. However, he died without making the first monthly payment.

On December 1, 1995, Ronald R. James became the Personal Representative of the estate. His Petition for Probate listed assets totaling $149,490.95, and debts totaling $107,093.95. The assets included Mr. James' home at 24 Tuckerman Street, N.W., which was valued at $111,504.00. The Petition also listed $99,448.00 in secured debts that were directly attributable to the refinancing of Mr. James' home. Included in this $99,448.00 figure, were two monthly mortgage payments for September and October 1995, totaling $1,948.00. *fn1

On January 29, 1996, the trial court ordered the payment of $10,000.00 to Marguerite Duque as a "family allowance" to care for Mr. James' minor child Alberto Duque. However the Personal Representative refused to pay the family allowance because, "there [was] no net estate for distribution after payment of all expenses of administration, funeral expenses, and the debts of the decedent." Mrs. Duque objected to the Personal Representative's January 1998 first and final account, contending that "[p]ursuant to D.C. Code § 19-101, Alberto Duque is entitled to receive a family allowance of $10,000.00." *fn2 In response, the Personal Representative argued that he has

an obligation to deal fairly with all persons, including but not limited to heirs and creditors. Although the family allowance is a preferred payment under District of Columbia law, it comes behind funeral expenses and expenses of administration. It is suggested that all expenses of administration were appropriate under the circumstances.

Contrary to Ms. Duque's contentions, this Estate has been fairly and properly administered. The course of action taken by the Personal Representative was a prudent one. . . . A "prudent person" would not in these circumstances have allowed the property to go to foreclosure. . . . Ms. Duque, through her attorney, was kept apprised of the proposed course of action and at no time objected.

(Emphasis added).

On March 19, 1998, the trial court concluded that

the plain words of the Code cannot be evaded. The Council of the District of Columbia, in two different Sections of the law, addressed the matter of priority of the family allowance. The Council did not elect to give a higher status to fiduciary or legal compensation or to anything other than funeral expenses. With such an explicit statute, the Superior Court has no discretion to create a new scheme of priorities.

Therefore, the trial court ordered "[the] estate [to] disburse [to Mrs. Duque] the sum of $10,000.00 in satisfaction of the family allowance." Furthermore, the trial court ordered that the remaining balance of the estate could be used to pay $3000.00 ...


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