The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently decided a case involving an extended Rhode Island probate dispute. According to the court’s opinion, in 2005, the plaintiff was involved in a dispute over the designation of guardianship of her aunt before her aunt passed away. After the plaintiff’s aunt passed, the dispute was over the administration of her estate.
The court named the plaintiff as administratrix of the estate and imposed a corporate surety bond as a condition of the plaintiff becoming administratrix of the estate. The plaintiff also filed for sanctions against opposing counsel. The probate court denied the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions against opposing counsel and her motion to waive the surety bond. In 2012, the plaintiff requested the superior court to authorize another family member to “stand as surety for [the plaintiff’s] conduct as administratrix” and to eliminate the requirement of the surety bond. She also appealed the probate court’s refusal to sanction opposing counsel for “bringing a frivolous guardianship proceeding” before her aunt passed away. The court declined to sanction opposing counsel and also held that the corporate surety was “absolutely necessary” in this case.
A surety bond in a probate case is a means of ensuring that the executor will not commit any wrongdoing. The insurer agrees to compensate the beneficiaries for any money lost if the executor makes a mistake (intentionally or unintentionally) in settling the estate. Section 33-17-1.2 of Rhode Island General Laws provides the circumstances under which a surety bond can and should be imposed. Section 33-17-1.2 allows the probate court to use its discretion in determining whether a corporate surety is required, and it provides numerous factors to consider. Under the current version of the statute, a court can consider facts such as the total number of heirs, the relationship between the heirs, the extent of conflicts between the heirs and over the estate, and the total size and monetary value of the estate. In this case, the court decided that the plaintiff failed to show that her surety or that of her family member was sufficient.