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Estate of Gilbert

Supreme Court of Maine

April 11, 2019

ESTATE OF JOHN W. GILBERT

          Submitted On Briefs: October 11, 2018

          Susan C. Thiem, Esq., Lincolnville, for appellant Nathan Gilbert

          David Glasser, Esq., Camden, for appellee Judith Gilbert

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶1] In this high-conflict, much-litigated estate dispute, the parties continue to litigate over the disposition of a piece of real property and a motorcycle together valued at $68, 500. In this third appeal, Nathan Gilbert challenges two judgments of the Waldo County Probate Court [Longley, J.) in which the court determined that the total expenditures made by, and deductions allowable to, Judith Gilbert, as the wife of John W. Gilbert and personal representative of John's estate, exceed the value of the estate, and distributed the estate to Judith in kind. Nathan argues that the court made numerous errors in its findings of fact and its application of the law.[1] We affirm the judgments.

          I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] John W. Gilbert died on February 2, 2012, leaving, as the primary assets in his estate, real property and a motorcycle, along with various other personal items. See Estate of Gilbert, 2016 ME 92, ¶ 2, 142 A.3d 583. Thus ensued this acrimonious litigation between Nathan (John's son), and Judith, the personal representative of John's estate and John's long-term partner whom he married shortly before his death. Id. Seven years have passed since John's death, and the parties are before us today for the third time.[2]

         [¶3] In the most recent appeal of this case, Estate of Gilbert [Gilbert II), we remanded the matter for the Probate Court "to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the composition and value of the estate" and issue a "decision detailing the distribution of the estate consistent with the evidence produced at that hearing." 2017 ME 175, ¶ 11, 169 A.3d 382. We emphasized the need for "finality in this unnecessarily complicated litigation." Id.

         [¶4] On remand, the court promptly held an evidentiary hearing[3] and reached a decision "[b]ased on the most credible presentations on multiple days at both the evidentiary hearing on the composition and value of the estate and the consolidated evidentiary hearing on all remaining motions ... ."[4] The court concluded that Judith, the personal representative of the estate, "without giving notice, now may opt immediately to distribute the estate in [] kind, to the person entitled," Judith.

         [¶5] Nathan filed a motion for findings of fact and conclusions of law, for additional findings of fact, and to amend the order. In his motion, Nathan put forth fifty-one proposed findings of fact and seventeen proposed corrections of law, all regarding the value and distribution of the estate. The court issued an amended order finding that all that remained in the estate was the decedent's real property (valued at $63, 500) and a Harley Davidson motorcycle (valued at $5, 000). Next, the court found that Judith, as personal representative, paid necessary expenses of $40, 705.58, consisting of property taxes and home insurance ($7, 902.95), funeral expenses ($3, 215), and administrative expenses ($29, 587.63). See 18-AM.R.S. §§ 3-715, 3-720 (2018). The court also found that Judith was entitled to allowances and an exemption totaling $29, 000, consisting of a homestead allowance ($10, 000), see 18-A M.R.S. § 2-401 (2018), a personal allowance ($12, 000), see 18-A M.R.S. § 2-403 (2018), and a property exemption ($7, 000), see 18-A M.R.S. § 2-402 (2018). See 18-A M.R.S. § 2-404 (2018). Accordingly, Judith's expenses, allowances, and exemption-totaling $69, 705.58 ($40, 705.58 $29, 000)-came to $1, 205.58 more than the total value of the assets in the estate ($68, 500). The court therefore entered an order concluding that Judith was entitled to receive the estate in kind. Nathan timely appealed. See 18-A M.R.S. § 1-308 (2018); M.R. App. P. 2B (c)(1).

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶6] Nathan makes several contrived arguments that the court misinterpreted sections 2-101, 2-102(4), 3-707, 3-712, 3-713, 3-805, and 3-906[5] (2018) of the Probate Code and that the court ignored the personal representative's breach of her fiduciary duties.[6] Reviewing the court's interpretation of the Probate Code as a legal issue de novo, see Estate of Cabatit v. Ganders, 2014 ME 133, ¶ 11, 105 A.3d 439, we conclude that the court did not make any errors of law.

         [¶7] Nathan next asserts that the court made numerous errors in its fact-finding. Because there is evidentiary support for each finding, the court did not commit clear error. See Estate of Plummer,666 A.2d 116, 118 (Me. 1995); Wells v. Powers,2005 ME 62, ¶ 2, 873 A.2d 361. He argues that the court erred in determining that the fair market value of the real property is $63, 500, as opposed to $89, 500; the court erred in finding that Judith paid necessary expenses totaling $40, 705.58; and, the court ...


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