Virginia Lawyers Weekly//October 23, 2022
Virginia Lawyers Weekly//October 23, 2022//
Although the circuit court correctly admitted a will to probate and appointed an estate administrator, the court incorrectly granted summary judgment to a German charity that was making a claim against the decedent’s brokerage account.
Towsey, the decedent, had dual citizenship in the United States and Germany. After his death, the circuit court appointed an administrator and awarded Towsey’s brokerage account to Aids-Hilfe Koln, a German charity. Aids-Hilfe claims it is the only heir of Towsey’s estate.
Taylor, Towsey’s nephew, was a payee on the account. He challenges the trial court’s ruling on various grounds.
In the circuit court
“Aids-Hilfe filed a petition, which was amended twice in the circuit court of the City of Richmond, in which it asked the court to admit Towsey’s will to probate, appoint an administrator c.t.a., invalidate Taylor’s designation as the beneficiary of Towsey’s brokerage account, and, invoking the Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act, Code § 8.01-465.13:1 et seq., recognize the judgment of a German court granting Aids-Hilfe a certificate of heirship.
“Taylor filed a demurrer to the petition, contending among other things that the factual allegations of the petition were deficient to show that Towsey has estate in the City of Richmond or that Aids-Hilfe is a substantial legatee, and disputing Aids-Hilfe’s claim that the transfer on death designation was invalid. The circuit court overruled the demurrer.
“Aids-Hilfe moved for summary judgment, asserting that the German court had determined that it was entitled to the proceeds of the brokerage account. According to Aids-Hilfe, Towsey was incapacitated when he made the transfer on death designation naming Taylor as a beneficiary of the brokerage account.”
Taylor argued that summary judgment be denied. He noted that “the German judgment was not eligible for recognition under the Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act, as the German Court did not ‘[g]rant or den[y] recovery of a sum of money[.]’”
Taylor’s wife was a 50 percent beneficiary on the account and was not a named party. Taylor also argued that the German court did not actually determine Aids-Hilfe was entitled to the account. Further, Taylor claimed, Aids-Hilfe lacked standing to litigate on the estate’s behalf.
The circuit court granted Aids-Hilfe summary judgment. “We affirm the circuit court’s decision to admit the will to probate and to appoint an administrator.” However, the rest of the circuit court’s decision is vacated.
“Aids-Hilfe asserted that Towsey lacked the capacity to designate Taylor as a beneficiary of the brokerage account, and it sought to invalidate this designation. Taylor assigns error to this ruling. We agree with Taylor that the circuit court erred.
“Any such challenge would have to be brought by the administrator of the estate, not a purported beneficiary of the will. ‘The personal representative, not a beneficiary of the estate, is the proper party to litigate on behalf of the estate.’ … “Consequently, we reverse the decision of the circuit court granting Aids-Hilfe summary judgment on this count.”
No money judgment
“Aids-Hilfe asked the circuit court to recognize a foreign judgment, namely the determination of a German court that Aids-Hilfe is entitled to a certificate of heirship. Aids-Hilfe contends that the Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act compels recognition of this judgment. The circuit court agreed. Taylor challenges this holding, noting that the Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act, by its terms, applies only when a foreign court has ‘[g]rant[ed] or denie[d] recovery of a sum of money.’ …We agree with Taylor. …
On its face, the judgment of the German court does not ‘[g]rant or den[y] recovery of a sum of money.’ … The German Court granted Aids-Hilfe a certificate of heirship, concluding that it was the sole heir of Towsey’s estate.
“Declaring a person or entity to be an heir is not the same as granting or denying ‘recovery of a sum of money.’ An estate may be insolvent, or it may consist of personal property or real property. Furthermore, although Aids-Hilfe contended below that the German court adjudicated ownership of the brokerage account in its favor, the record refutes this contention. The German court specifically declined to rule on the issue.
“The Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act does not apply when the foreign judgment fails to grant or deny recovery of a sum of money. In this instance, the German court, in granting Aids-Hilfe a certificate of heirship, did not grant or deny that organization a sum of money. Therefore, the circuit court erred in granting Aids-Hilfe summary judgment.”
“Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and final judgment.”
Taylor v. Aids-Hilfe Koln e.V., Record No. 210935; (McCullough) Oct. 13, 2022. From the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond (Hairston) Norman A. Thomas (Thomas H. Gays II, on briefs), for appellant. John C. Monica, Jr. (Emma Kruger Devaney; Offit / Kurman, on brief), for appellees. VLW 022-6-045, 8 pp.