Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (ADM929-05) (Hon. A. Franklin Burgess, Jr., Trial Judge).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blackburne-rigsby, Associate Judge
Argued September 19, 2007
Before RUIZ, BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, and THOMPSON, Associate Judges.
In the course of proceedings to probate the estate of Naomi Virginia Bates, Denise Gurley, who is one of her three daughters, was appointed personal representative. On appeal, one of Ms. Bates's other daughters, appellant Marsha Karim, challenges the trial court's denial of her request to remove Ms. Gurley as personal representative. Additionally, she challenges the trial court's denial of her request to enjoin Ms. Gurley from proceeding with the sale of one of the estate's pieces of real property.
Appellant Marsha Karim alleges that her sister, Ms. Gurley, violated her statutory duties as personal representative with regard to the following four disputed components of the estate: (1) the bank accounts; (2) a safety deposit box and its contents; (3) real property located at 4805 Lee Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20019 ("Lee Street property"); and (4) the 2004 tax return. There are five grounds or infractions that mandate removal of a personal representative under D.C. Code § 20-526 (b) (2001).*fn1 In her appeal, Ms. Karim focuses on three of these grounds: § 20-526 (b)(1) misrepresentation of material facts in the proceedings leading up to appointment, § 20-526 (b)(3) inability to discharge the duties effectively, and § 20-526 (b)(4) mismanagement of property. Ms. Karim also appeals the trial court's denial of her petition to stay the sale of the estate's real property located at 731 Adrian Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20017 ("Adrian Street property"). We agree with the trial court that Ms. Karim failed to establish an adequate legal basis under the statute for removing her sister as the personal representative. We also discern no abuse of discretion in the trial court's denial of Ms. Karim's petition to stay the sale of the Adrian Street property. Accordingly, we affirm.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
On June 30, 2005, Naomi Virginia Bates died intestate and left, as her sole heirs and next-of-kin, her three daughters, Ms. Renee Tilghman, Ms. Marsha Karim (the appellant), and Ms. Denise Gurley (the appellee and personal representative of the estate).
Ms. Karim sought appointment as the personal representative of her mother's estate by attempting to file a Petition to Probate the Estate of Naomi Virginia Bates ("estate") on August 11, 2005. However, she was unable to secure a bond for the estate until August 16, 2005. Ms. Karim estimated that the value of the estate was $127,362.00, which included: (1) the Adrian Street property valued at $80,000.00; (2) her mother's part interest in the Lee Street property valued at $2,000.00; (3) an IRA account at SunTrust Bank valued at $18,362.00; (4) a checking account at SunTrust Bank valued at $11,000.00; (5) a savings account that was not valued held at an unidentified bank; (6) a checking account at Industrial Bank valued at $16,000.00; (7) a safety deposit box with unknown contents at SunTrust Bank; and (8) approximately four acres of real property in Virginia*fn2 ("Virginia property") that was not valued. Ms. Tilghman signed a consent waiver to Ms. Karim's petition.
Nearly simultaneously, unbeknownst to Ms. Karim and without knowledge of Ms. Karim's petition, Ms. Gurley had filed her Petition to Probate the Estate on August 17, 2005. She was able to secure a bond for the estate and her petition included an $81,000.00 bond. Ms. Gurley was appointed personal representative on August 22, 2005. When Ms. Karim attempted to file her Petition to Probate the Estate on August 23, 2005, her petition was denied because Ms. Gurley had already been appointed as the estate's personal representative in an unsupervised estate administration. Ms. Gurley did not list any bank accounts, the contents of the safe deposit box, the interest in the Lee Street property, or the Virginia property in her initial petition to probate, and only listed the Adrian Street property valued at $114,320.00.*fn3
Ms. Gurley filed an estate Inventory on September 8, 2005. The Inventory listed the total appraised value of the decedent's property as $152,411.70, which included the Adrian Street property valued at $114,320.00 and the $38,091.70 in the SunTrust checking account which was comprised of the value of the closed Industrial Bank account, two closed SunTrust accounts and a closed SunTrust CD account. The safe deposit box and the real property located on Lee Street and in Virginia*fn4 were not included in the inventory.
After receiving the inventory, Ms. Karim on October 7, 2005, filed a petition to remove Ms. Gurley as the estate's personal representative and to substitute herself. In her response to Ms. Karim's petition for removal, Ms. Gurley disputed Ms. Karim's three alleged grounds for removal. First, Ms. Gurley argued that she had not violated § 20-526(b)(1) by misrepresenting material facts prior to her appointment because she was not required to include the Lee Street property or the joint bank accounts in her initial probate petition. Second, Ms. Gurley argued that she had not violated § 20-526(b)(4) by mismanaging property or by failing to amend the 2004 tax return because Ms. Karim possessed the relevant documents necessary to amend the 2004 tax return and refused to give them to Ms. Gurley. Finally, Ms. Gurley argued that she had not violated §20-526(b)(3) because her inability to appraise the Adrian Street property and the personal property located therein on October 4, 2005, was due to Ms. Karim's failure to allow her access to the property by changing the locks without notice. Ms. Karim also permitted two of her children to move into the house with a Pit Bull dog, and they would not permit Ms. Gurley to enter the house to inventory or appraise its contents.
The trial court held a hearing on Ms. Karim's petition to remove Ms. Gurley as personal representative, where it heard testimony from both Ms. Karim and Ms. Gurley, and received evidence from both parties. The trial judge found that "there's been no material misrepresentation with the proceeding leading up to the establishment of the estate," that the tax return was "perhaps a mistake, but wouldn't amount to mismanagement," and that there was not "anything here that would suggest to me that [Ms. Gurley] should be removed." The trial court noted that Ms. Gurley "included funds in the estate that probably don't really need to be there" and the safety deposit box "really didn't even need to be in the estate" because those accounts were joint accounts, and, therefore, Ms. Gurley had a survivorship right in the property.*fn5 Ms. Karim did not introduce any contradictory evidence that the accounts were not survivorship accounts. The trial court further noted that Ms. Karim's conduct and attitude counseled against appointing her as personal representative.*fn6 On December 19, 2005, the trial court denied Ms. Karim's petition to remove Ms. Gurley as the estate's personal representative and ordered that the estate would be under supervised administration.*fn7 Ms. Karim filed a timely Notice of Appeal on January 13, 2006.
On March 8, 2006, Ms. Gurley filed a petition to sell the decedent's Adrian Street property. In her petition, she explained that, notwithstanding the fact that the Adrian Street property was generating rental income*fn8 , given the animosity between her and her two siblings, it would be in the best interest of the estate to sell the property and divide the proceeds rather than to own the property jointly.
Ms. Karim filed a petition requesting that the trial court stay the sale of the Adrian Street property because her appeal from the trial court's December 19, 2005, order denying her petition to remove her sister as personal representative was still pending. Ms. Karim also argued that Ms. Gurley should have first sought to sell the decedent's interest in the vacant Lee Street property instead of the income-generating Adrian Street property.
Following a hearing on April 27, 2006, the trial court denied Ms. Karim's petition to stay the sale and granted Ms. Gurley's petition to sell the Adrian Street property. Ms. Karim, through her attorney, filed a Notice of Appeal on May 25, 2006, and requested that this Court stay all orders of the Superior Court.
This Court consolidated both appeals, 06-PR-589 and 06-PR-46, on June 9, 2006, and denied Ms. Karim's motion to stay ...