In re Estate of Riley: Protecting Beneficiaries' Rights in a Probate Estate

In re Estate of Riley: Protecting Beneficiaries' Rights in a Probate Estate

By Hadar L. Avraham* and Raphael J. Avraham**

* J.D., University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, 2008. ** J.D. Candidate, University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, 2013; M.B.A. Candidate, University of Arizona Eller College of Management, 2013.

Excerpt from In re Estate of Riley: Protecting Beneficiaries' Rights in a Probate Estate, 54 Ariz. L. Rev. 567 (Summer, 2012)

Introduction
 
In 2006, Joseph Riley ("Joseph") and Mary Benge ("Mary") resigned as co-personal representatives of Mary Riley's estate after their siblings, also beneficiaries of the estate, filed a petition for their removal. 1 Joseph and Mary prepared an accounting of the estate for the court that showed that Joseph stole more than $ 200,000 from the estate. 2 Ultimately Joseph pleaded guilty to theft and was ordered to spend 52 consecutive weekends in jail. 3

Nine of the estate's thirteen beneficiaries also filed a civil suit. The litigation implicated Arizona Revised Statutes section 14-3952, and prompted the Arizona Court of Appeals to clarify the statute's requirements. The Arizona State Legislature adopted section 14-3952 in 1974, which defines the procedure for securing court approval of a compromise. This Case Note first analyzes the court of appeals' decision In re Estate of Riley, which addressed for the first time whether section 14-3952 requires that a compromise agreement that affects the distribution of an estate be executed by all estate beneficiaries and interested persons. 4 Looking to the plain meaning of the statute, the court held that in order to protect the rights of beneficiaries and interested persons in the estate's distribution, all beneficiaries and interested persons must execute an agreement. 5 This Case Note explores the implications of the Riley decision - including increasing costs, opportunities for abuse, and contraventions of the law's intent - and suggests legislative action that may accommodate the court's interest in protecting beneficiaries' rights in ...

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