Daily Decisions: “Slayer Rule” Does not Apply to Self-Defense

“Marni Rice and Michele Parrott were in a committed relationship” — until the two had an argument and Parrott wound up dead. Plaintiff Robin Parrot-Horjes then sued individually and on behalf of Parrott’s estate seeking (a) damages for wrongful death and (b) to prevent Rice from taking money from Parrott’s life insurance policy under the common law “slayer rule.” Continue reading

Daily Decisions: Don’t Use Your Mother’s Trust Account to Buy a House for Yourself

Well, Theresa A. Roberts v. Denise H. Roberts (Division 2, May 15, 2012), is a nice little case for the Court to hand down a couple of days after Mother’s Day. Theresa Roberts is Denise Roberts’s mother. Theresa had appointed Denise to be the trustee of a revocable living trust Theresa created to provide for her own care.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Denise wasn’t the best choice for trustee. Denise took money out of the trust account to pay for her own property and to build a home. Then she put Theresa in an assisted living facility. When a court appointed a “guardian” to look after Theresa’s interests and to protect Theresa’s assets — a protection deemed necessary because of Theresa’s dementia — Denise promptly transferred property to her husband and other insiders for no consideration. Continue reading

Daily Decisions: A Marriage-Like Relationship Is Not a Creditor-Like Relationship

Julie Witt and Danny Merle Young had a “long-term, committed, intimate relationship,” which was a “stable, marital-like relationship where both parties cohabit with knowledge that a lawful marriage between them does not exist.” The two began living together in 1992 “at a point when neither had any real property or significant personal property.” They “held themselves out to the public as a married couple.”

Young died without a will in September 2009. Witt filed a claim with the Estate in March 2010, asserting that she was entitled to a portion of the Estate based on her relationship with Young. The Estate (through its personal representative, Young’s brother) rejected Witt’s claim, and informed her “that, unless suit was brought on the claim within thirty days of service of the Rejection, the Claim would be forever barred.” Of course, Witt challenged the rejection in court — but not until thirty days had already passed. Continue reading

SCOW: When Does a Parent Provide “Regular[] . . . Support”?

I’m not in the mood to be depressed this afternoon, nor am I in the mood to make you depressed, so I’m going to skip over most of the facts in Estate of Bunch v. McGraw Residential Center (Wash., May 3, 2012), which the Supreme Court handed down last week. Basically, Ashlie Bunch lived for a while with her mother, Amy Kozel, in Florida. Then in 2003 Ashlie moved to Washington to live with her father, Steven Bunch, which she did until 2008, when she died.

Bunch claimed (and we’ll assume) that after Ashlie moved to Washington, Kozel essentially had no relationship with Ashlie.  Bunch sued defendant McGraw Residential Center pursuant to RCW 4.24.010, which provides a cause of action for a parent based on the injury or death of a child. Kozel attempted to intervene in the suit, since she was also Ashlie’s parent. 

“The fundamental point of contention in this case is whether Kozel has standing to proceed under RCW 4.24.010.” The relevant statutory language reads:

A mother or father, or both, who has regularly contributed to the support of his or her minor child, and the mother or father, or both, of a child on whom either, or both, are dependent for support may maintain or join as a party an action as plaintiff for the injury or death of the child.

 (The emphasis is in the Court’s opinion, though not in the statute.) According to the Court, “the key question is whether the term ‘has regularly contributed’ requires that the support be continuing at the time of the child’s death.” Since Kozel was not “regularly contributing” support at the time of Ashlie’s death, a requirement of support up to the time of death would bar Kozel’s participation in the lawsuit. Continue reading

SCOW: Stepchildren Are Stepchildren

A nice and simple little matter of statutory interpretation from the Washington Supreme Court today.  In In re the Estate of Blessing (Wash., April 5, 2012), the Court interpreted the word “stepchildren” under Washington’s wrong death statute, RCW 4.20.020.  The statute provides that a wrongful death action:

shall be for the benefit of the wife, husband, state registered domestic partner, child or children, including stepchildren, of the person whose death shall have been so caused.

Here, Audrey Blessing and Carl Blaschka were married in 1964.  At the time, Blessing had three children from her previous marriage and Blaschka had four children from his previous marriage. Blessing never adopted the Blashka children, but the couple raised all seven children together.

Blaschka died in 1994. Blessing later remarried. In 2007, Blessing was killed in a car accident. Blessing’s estate brought a wrongful death action against the driver who caused the accident. The Blaschka children then sought a ruling that they qualified as “stepchildren” under the wrongful death statute in connection with the estate’s claim.

The question for the Supreme Court, therefore, was whether stepchildren remain stepchildren following the death of their biological parent.  Notably, the Court does not discuss divorce or any other termination of marriage other than the fact of a predeceased biological parent.

The Court held that stepchildren remain stepchildren following the death of their biological parent. In so holding, the Court noted that the statute does not define “stepchildren” and that, given the lack of definition, there is really no reason to exclude stepchildren following the death of their parent. Of course, there are situations where stepchildren will have little or no contact with their stepparent following the death of their biological parent.  The Court acknowledges this fact, but states:

Any concerns over the result or regarding which stepchildren should be entitled to recover in a wrongful death suit are more appropriately factored into any damages determination.

Instead of setting a complete bar to recovery, therefore, the Court concluded that the vagaries of stepchild-stepparent relationships are better considered on a sliding scale of damages calculations.

Daily Decisions: Four Wills and a Guy Named Will

In re The Trust and Estate of Melter (Division 3, March 20, 2012), is somewhat of a crazy case that might interest you if you care at all about (1) challenges to wills and inter vivos gifts or (2) standards of review, burdens of proof, and presumptions more generally.

First of all, the facts of the case are interesting/depressing in a soap opera kind of way.   The dispute is between two sons (William and John) regarding the estate of their deceased mother (Virginia).  The case is a bit complicated since it includes five wills: four testamentary wills and one guy named Will.  But we’ll just call him William, which means there are only four wills to deal with. It just makes things easier. Continue reading