No, according to In re Estate of Elze D. Harris, Docket No. 362364 (September 28, 2023).
In Estate of Harris, the decedent’s three children were embroiled in litigation over who should control their deceased father’s estate and whether daughter Denise should have to pay rent for living in the decedent’s house for two years after his death. Denise was appointed as personal representative of the estate and then proceeded to not expeditiously administer the estate as required by Michigan law. The probate court removed Denise as personal representative, appointed a non-family member successor, and ordered Denise to pay rent for the time she lived in the home after her father’s death.
Denise appealed, arguing that she and her brothers were joint tenants of the property by operation of their dad’s will, that her brothers had keys and equal access to the property and that being removed from the property and forced to pay rent violated her joint tenancy rights. In rejecting this argument, the Court of Appeals held that Denise and her brothers did not become joint tenants by virtue of their father’s will. Rather, their father’s will left them everything equally including the house. Nor was the property deeded from the estate to Denise and her brothers, so they were not title owners of the property through the estate. The estate property could have been rented out by Denise to a third-party or sold during the time that Denise lived in the residence.
The Court of Appeals affirmed that Denise being ordered to pay rent was an appropriate remedy for her breaches of fiduciary duty as personal representative under MCL 700.3712. Section 3712 provides as follows: “If the exercise or failure to exercise a power concerning the estate is improper, the personal representative is liable to interested persons for damage or loss resulting from breach of fiduciary duty to the same extent as a trustee of an express trust.”
If you have questions about a probate or estate dispute, please contact Laura Morris at email@example.com or 616.752.2407.