Petitioner May Not Challenge Estate Planning Documents, Court Finds

A Delaware Court of Chancery dismisses, with prejudice, a petition alleging that a will and trust agreement should be invalidated, an executrix breached her fiduciary duties, and transfers of assets should be unwound, among other claims, in part because the Petitioner waited too long to state these claims against an executrix of an estate. In Tina Renee Rambo v. Kimberly S. Fischer (Del. Ch., C.A. No. 2022-0161-SEM, September 13, 2022).

Ellan Levitsky Orkin passed away in November 2019. In 1998, Ms. Orkin became aquatinted with a woman named Kimberly S. Fischer. Between 2002 and 2017, Ms. Orkin executed 25 different estate planning documents, giving increasingly more control over her life and estate to Ms. Fischer. In addition, these documents gradually made Ms. Fischer the recipient of the bulk of Ms. Orkin’s estate — worth approximately $14 million — which would have otherwise gone primarily to Ms. Orkin’s family.

Ms. Orkin’s cousin and niece by marriage, Tina Renee Rambo, filed a challenge to the final will and trust documents in February 2022. Ms. Rambo sought to invalidate Ms. Orkin’s will and trust, claimed a breach of fiduciary duty, demanded an accounting from Ms. Fischer, and sought to invalidate transfers of Ms. Orkin’s assets. Ms. Fischer filed a motion to dismiss all of Ms. Rambo’s claims.

The court finds the petition should be dismissed with prejudice. First, it concludes that Ms. Rambo’s request for an accounting from Ms. Fischer was not permitted by statute, nor did she have the standing to make such a request. An accounting may only be sought when the principal is alive or by the personal representative, trustee, or beneficiary of the principal’s estate. Ms. Rambo does not fall within any of the categories, and the agent is not required to account to any beneficiary of the estate.

Second, the court finds that Ms. Rambo does not have standing to allege that Ms. Fischer breached her fiduciary duties under the power of attorney, as trustee or executrix. Under Delaware law, the time limit to challenge a trust or an amendment to a trust is between 120 days and two years, depending on the circumstances. A will must be challenged within six months of being admitted to probate. Because Ms. Rambo missed all of these deadlines, she did not have standing to challenge the trust or will or bring collateral claims such as a claim for unjust enrichment.

Read the full text of this decision.