In re Estate of Walter
Pennsylvania Superior Court
191 A.3d 873 (2018)
Lynn Walter (defendant), a professional bookkeeper, was the executor for the estate of Carryl Walter. Carryl’s will bequeathed most of Carryl’s substantial assets to charity and included several specific bequests, including a bequest conveying ownership of Carryl’s valuable coin collection to the National Military Family Association (NMFA). Pursuant to the directives in Carryl’s will, Lynn appointed Karl Rominger as the estate’s attorney. Based on Rominger’s unsubstantiated claims that NMFA preferred to receive a cash bequest rather than the coin collection, Lynn allowed Rominger to sell Carryl’s coin collection and transfer the sale proceeds to Rominger’s own account, over which Lynn had no control. Rominger subsequently embezzled the sale proceeds. Over the next several years, despite receiving several overdraft notices from the estate’s accounts, Lynn believed Rominger’s assurances that the estate administration process was going well and did not investigate further. Lynn’s failure to properly oversee the estate allowed Rominger to embezzle additional funds. After Carryl submitted an estate accounting to the clerk of the orphan’s court, which had jurisdiction over estate administration, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (plaintiff), acting as parens patriae, petitioned to void the improper distributions made from the estate and to remove Lynn as executor. The orphan’s court granted Pennsylvania’s petition and imposed a surcharge against Lynn for the misappropriated funds, holding that Lynn had breached her fiduciary duties as executor because she had failed to exercise sufficient due diligence to ensure that Carryl’s estate was properly administered and distributed. Lynn appealed, arguing that the surcharge was inappropriate because she had acted in good faith and on the advice of counsel.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Stevens, J.)
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