Trusts and Estates

Sapp v. Rogers

Cite as E068030
Filed June 11, 2019, Fourth District

By Daniel C. Kim
Weintraub Tobin Chediak Coleman Grodin Law Corporation

Headnote: Personal Representatives – Removal

Summary: Administrator removed for 15-year intentional delay in selling estate property and winding up estate affairs, and for bad faith conduct against heirs.

Roscoe Sapp, Sr. died in 1994. His estate owned 11 parcels of real property worth between $6-9 million. After a number of changes in the office of administrator during the 1990s, in 2000, Edith Rogers, the decedent’s granddaughter, and Roscoe Sapp, Jr., a son, became co-administrators. In 2001, the co-administrators petitioned for instructions regarding disposition of the estate, arguing that decedent’s will was ambiguous as to whether real property should all be liquidated or whether certain properties should be retained as care facilities for disabled heirs. On August 30, 2001, the court ordered the petitioners to “sell the [estate’s] property.” Roscoe, Jr. died in 2003 and, in 2005, Edith became sole administrator. In the 14 years following the 2001 order, the court approved the sale of four properties, but Edith made no other progress in distributing the estate. Two grandsons filed separate petitions to remove Edith based on the substantial delays in administration, which they argued was intentional, and Edith’s efforts to make beneficiaries accept $10,000 in lieu of their inheritance. The trial court granted the petitions, in part, because Edith was “incapable of properly executing the duties of an administrator.”

The appellate court affirmed. Edith was not “incapable” of executing the duties of an administrator within the meaning of the applicable statute, which the court held applied only to instances of physical or mental incapacity. However, Edith was “otherwise not qualified” to execute the duties of the office of administrator based on her failure to effectively market the estate’s real property for many years and her bad faith and lack of impartiality towards beneficiaries. She threatened to disinherit heirs if they failed to cooperate with her and offered $10,000 buyouts for estate property worth millions. The court also found that the 15 ½ year delay in winding up the estate constituted “mismanagement,” which is a separate basis for removal. Edith did not merely neglect to comply with the court’s 2001 instruction to sell everything or make an honest mistake. Instead, the record showed that she spent more than 15 years delaying the sale of the estate’s property, all the while claiming the 2001 order was wrongly decided and attempting in bad faith to buy out the heirs for amounts substantially less than their fair share.

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