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In re Estate of Wright

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fourth District, Gallia

July 16, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF CLYDE CECIL WRIGHT AKA CLYDE C. WRIGHT AKA CLYDE WRIGHT, DECEASED.

          Tracy S. Comisford, Tracy S. Comisford Co. LPA, Granville, Ohio for Appellant.

          Brent A Saunders, Halladay, Sheets & Saunders, Gallipolis, Ohio for Appellee.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

          Michael D. Hess, Judge.

         {¶1} Appellant David C. Wright appeals an order ruling on exceptions to and approving a final inventory in the estate of Clyde C. Wright. David Wright raises one assignment of error in which he contends that the trial court erred in placing the burden upon him as beneficiary to prove that assets identified as estate assets are in fact estate assets. Here the trial court held an inventory hearing pursuant to R.C. 2115.16 concerning an amended inventory to which David Wright filed exceptions. As a party disputing the inventory, David Wright had the burden of going forward with evidence supporting his challenges to the estate's inventory. We overrule his assignment of error and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         {¶2} Rhonda Lynn Sluder, nka Wright, nka Coffee ("Coffee") filed an application for authority to administer the estate of her father, Cecil Wright, in April 2015. Cecil Wright died in November 2014. Coffee identified herself and her brother, David Wright, as the surviving children. There was no surviving spouse. Several appraisers were appointed to appraise the assets of the estate. In July 2015, Coffee filed an inventory and appraisal as well as a schedule of assets which reflected estate assets totaling $38, 788.08. Both Coffee and David Wright waived notice of the hearing on inventory and neither filed any objections to the inventory. The trial court entered an order approving inventory and appraisal. In October 2015, Coffee filed a fiduciary's account, which included a signed receipt by Coffee and David Wright acknowledging receipt of all the personal property from their father's estate. In December 2015, the trial court issued an entry approving and settling the account.

         {¶3} In August 2016, eight months after the estate closed, David Wright filed a motion to vacate the entry approving and settling the account and to reopen the estate on the ground that Coffee breached her fiduciary duty to honestly, faithfully, and properly carry out her duties. Wright contended that he did not receive the property that was bequeathed to him. Coffee opposed the motion on the ground that her fiduciary's account identified the property, stated that it was distributed equally between them, and David Wright signed an acknowledgment of receipt of the property.

         {¶4} In November 2016, following discussions at a pretrial hearing, the trial court ordered any funds realized from the sale of the subject stock holdings held pending further order. Additionally, the trial court ordered Coffee to provide a complete accounting of the personal property of the estate, including guns, bows, power equipment, and vehicles.

         {¶5} In mid-February 2017, David Wright filed a motion for the removal of Coffee as the fiduciary based on answers Coffee gave in her deposition taken in January 2017.[1]David Wright alleged that Coffee failed to comply with the trial court's November 2016 order to complete an accounting and failed to disclose $180, 000 in cash held in a safe that was property of the estate. In late February 2017, Coffee filed an updated inventory and appraisal and schedule of assets, which reflected a total value of $134, 939.08. Many of the personal property items had estimated values and were marked with asterisks. In March 2017, the trial court held a hearing in which it granted David Wright's motion to remove Coffee as fiduciary and appointed Christopher E. Tenoglia as the Special Administrator for the estate. The trial court also ordered that all proceeds from the sale of stock be placed with Tenoglia.

         {¶6} In November 2017 the trial court held a hearing to determine whether to vacate the entry approving and settling the estate and reopen the estate. At that hearing, Coffee's counsel explained that the February 2017 amended inventory included the list of items that David Wright alleged were missing from the original inventory. Coffee marked those items with asterisks and did not provide a valuation because they were not present in Clyde Wright's estate at the time he died. The trial court instructed the parties that it would treat the new items on the February 2017 inventory as contested items and would hold a hearing on the February 2017 inventory to determine whether the contested items should be included in the estate.

         {¶7} Following the hearing, the trial court issued an entry denying the request to vacate the entry approving and settling the estate, but granting the request to reopen the estate. The trial court found that there may have been newly discovered assets that also needed to be administered and re-opened the estate for "the purpose of administering these newly discovered assets, if any." The court ordered a hearing on the amended inventory and gave the parties until December 22, 2017 "to submit items that they think should be included as newly discovered assets. If none are submitted, the ones suggested on the amended inventory filed on February 22, 2017, shall be the only ones considered."

         {¶8} David Wright submitted the following list of items to be added to the inventory: (1) $180, 000 in cash identified by Coffee in her deposition; (2) a slate pool table of unknown value; (3) a deer mount of unknown value; and (4) numerous trophies of unknown value.

         {¶9} In February 2018, the trial court held the inventory hearing. The trial court announced at the start of the hearing, "[T]oday's hearing is on whether or not there's newly discovered assets that should be included in the inventory. Is that correct? Everyone's understanding?" Counsel for David Wright confirmed that was his understanding, "Your Honor * * * indicated it would treat the, at that time recently filed new inventory as sort of newly discovered assets and scheduled a hearing accordingly. So I, I think we're here on a simple uh, hearing on the assets and depending on the facts as developed here uh, the court and/or the parties will proceed from that point." In response to a question from Special Administrator Tenoglia about disposition of the assets, the trial court summarized, "I'm going to decide whether or not * * * these alleged newly discovered assets are actually assets of the estate and * * * if they are available. So that's what I intend." David Wright's counsel stated, "I assume that's one of the things that we're going to explore is whether these are assets of the estate and what has been their disposition." The trial court responded, "Yes, exactly."

         {¶10} Coffee's counsel then responded, "[T]here was a schedule of assets that was filed * * * after [David Wright] made all of these allegations. [W]e did place an asterisk on all of those items that we believe [David Wright] did * * * either take prior to or at the death of his father. [T]he only additional inventory that they have filed was on December 22nd and in that they ...


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