Changes in Washington Practice Report (#17) / TEDRA can lead to many probate complexities

June 4, 2014

Washington State LawA wide range of proceedings can take place under the Washington State Trust and Dispute Resolution Act (TEDRA).

A recent case illustrates many of the important features of TEDRA. (Estate of Sough v. Calderbank, 2013 WL 6835212 (Wash.App.Div.1))

The Deceased died testate, survived by her two daughters (from a previous marriage) and her husband.

The principal asset in the estate was the home of the Deceased (purchased by her prior to her present marriage).

It was asserted by the daughters that the home was the separate property of the Deceased, so that the surviving husband had no claim on the property.

In turn, the husband asserted his interest in an equitable community property lien against the house.

He never filed a creditor’s claim against the estate, and did not pay rent during the probate while he continued to live in the house.

A court commissioner found that the house had been the separate property of the Decedent and ordered the parties to a TEDRA mediation to resolve the remaining estate issues.

The parties stipulated that, instead, they would prefer to enter into arbitration to resolve the issues, and the court confirmed this preference.

Following arbitration, the husband appealed the final decision and requested a trial de novo on all issues of law and fact.

The court dismissed the request and granted summary judgment for the daughters. An appeal followed.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the request for a trial de novo should not have been dismissed.

On appeal, the Court noted that TEDRA provides “any party with the right to proceed first with mediation and then arbitration before formal judicial procedures may be utilized”.

The Court also ruled that the assertion of an equitable lien against specific property “is not barred by failure to file a creditor’s claim….”

Assertion of such a lien was found not to be a debt and husband was not a creditor; instead the property was “impressed with a trust”.

TEDRA provides a broad means for addressing conflict over an estate. However, the numerous issues that can arise in such proceedings must be carefully evaluated at each stage of the process.

TEDRA can be a useful means for dispute resolution, but may lead to complex legal proceedings. Attorneys may find it important to inform clients of this potential complexity before engaging in such actions.

The TEDRA statutes must be read carefully, and issues explored through relevant case law.

This case also indicates the importance of making all possible relevant arguments to the Court at the beginning of a probate, to be available for later reference.

More information on probates and TEDRA may be found in Probate Law and Practice, Vol. 26 of Washington Practice, by Mitchell and Mitchell.

In addition, whenever attorneys wish to locate specific resource materials, Methods of Practice (volumes 1 to 1C) of Washington Practice can provide useful assistance. Excerpts from all of the volumes of Washington Practice are included in an easily-searchable format, so that potential cites may be quickly located. The individual volumes of interest may then be examined for the needed details.