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In re Estate of Waugh

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

August 27, 2015

IN RE ESTATE OF REUBEN E. WAUGH, JR.; GREGORY WAUGH, APPELLANT

Submitted March 31, 2015

Page 959

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Probate Division. (ADM-969-08). (Hon. John M. Campbell, Probate Judge).

James R. Holloway was on the brief for appellant.

Paul M. Toulouse was on the brief for appellees.

Before FISHER and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 960

Blackburne-Rigsby, Associate Judge

Over the course of supervised probate, and in two prior appeals before this court, appellant Gregory Waugh has raised multiple challenges to the administration and distribution of the estate of his father, decedent Reuben E. Waugh, who died intestate. Appellant's primary claim in the present appeal relates to compensation paid to appellee-attorney Paul M. Toulouse, who has served in three capacities -- as attorney for the estate, as co-personal representative with appellee Shanese L. Barber, the decedent's common law wife, and as the lawyer for Ms. Barber in her efforts to establish that she is an heir of the estate. Appellant contends that the trial court erroneously denied his challenges to Mr. Toulouse's compensation because appellant raised them by way of an objection to the co-personal representatives' account of estate administration, rather than by a separate petition under D.C. Code § 20-753 (2001). On appeal, we address a question of statutory construction: whether our probate statute permits an interested party to petition the court for a review of the reasonableness of compensation paid from estate funds by way of an objection to the personal representative's account of estate administration, rather than by a separate petition. We answer in the affirmative and remand for proceedings consistent with this holding.[1]

I. Factual Background

Reuben E. Waugh, Jr., died intestate on July 17, 2008, leaving Ms. Barber and appellant as potential heirs. Both potential heirs filed petitions for probate, but the trial court granted Ms. Barber's petition after an evidentiary hearing in which it determined that Ms. Barber was the decedent's common law wife. The trial court also appointed Ms. Barber as co-personal representative of the estate with her attorney, Mr. Toulouse, who also served as the attorney for the estate.

A. Appellant's first and second appeals

In appellant's first appeal before this court, he challenged the trial court's determination that Ms. Barber was the decedent's common law wife, and we affirmed. See In re Estate of Reuben E. Waugh, Jr.; Gregory Waugh, Appellant, No. 09-PR-1038, Mem. Op. & J. (D.C. October 19, 2010). Mr. Toulouse represented Ms. Barber in that appeal and received compensation from estate funds.

During and after the first appeal, Ms. Barber and Mr. Toulouse continued to administer the estate in accordance with their duties as co-personal representatives. Pursuant to D.C. Code § 20-721 (2001),[2]

Page 961

they submitted two accounts of the management and distribution of the estate to appellant and to the probate division for approval, the first on July 19, 2010 (" First Account" ), and the second and final on April 29, 2011 (" Final Account" ). Mr. Toulouse also provided appellant with a proposal to distribute the estate's assets in kind, pursuant to D.C. Code § 20-1102 (d),[3] on March 25, 2011. In this proposal, Mr. Toulouse requested that appellant raise any objections to the distribution in kind within thirty days, though appellant did not meet this deadline.

Appellant's only responses to the co-personal representatives' communications came in the form of objections to the First and Final Accounts, filed pursuant to D.C. Code § 20-726 (2001).[4] Appellant filed objections to the First Account on April 24, 2010, asserting, among other things, that Mr. Toulouse had abdicated his responsibility as co-personal representative by failing to require supporting documentation for the attorney's fees paid to him for his services, and abdicated his responsibility as attorney for the estate by failing to provide such documentation. Appellant filed objections to the Final Account on June 1, 2011, renewing his objections to the First Account and, for the first time, objecting to Mr. Toulouse's proposal for distribution of the estate in kind as " unfair and uneven." At the time of this filing, more than two months had elapsed since appellant received this proposal, and thus appellant had missed the thirty-day window in which to object to the proposed distribution, pursuant to D.C. Code § 20-1102 (d).[5] The trial court denied appellant's objections to both accounts without making specific findings, and appellant once again appealed to this court.[6]

In appellant's second appeal, he challenged the trial court's denial of his objections to the First Account and the Final Account, arguing error on the merits. Mr. Toulouse and Ms. Barber countered on procedural grounds, arguing that appellant had failed to file a petition challenging the ...


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