Splitting heirs Washtenaw County public administrators can help estates untangle probate issues

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

As a Washtenaw County public administrator, Andrew Eggan recalls a case where he had to deal with a suit against the estate for a claim of $10 million for alleged gold and silver mining operations.

"Fortunately, the case was resolved without having to go to trial," he says.

Eggan, an attorney with Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels PC in Ypsilanti, currently has PA cases that started out with no known heirs but through research heirs have been found in Communist Red China and another with heirs found in Germany.

"These provide the opportunity to make some unsuspecting heir a happy person," he says. "In one matter, we located over a million dollars in accounts in approximately 10 local banks containing close to 25 separate bank accounts."

Appointed as a PA in 2006, Eggan was joined by Ann Arbor attorney Sarah Meinhart in 2013, and this year by Ann Arbor attorney Josh Fink. The "fourth Musketeer" is Matt Daniels, an attorney in the firm of Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels, P.C., who is not an appointed PA but who works very closely with Eggan.

The three PAs work individually, but have called upon each other and PAs in different counties when some direction was needed.

"I'm still learning every day," Meinhart says. "I guess that's why they call it 'practicing' law instead of 'doing' law."

The position provides a neutral party to assist in the administration of proceedings that require probate court involvement where there is no family known or who is willing to administer the estate or make arrangements for the disposition of the body, Eggan explains.

As a neutral party, a public administrator may assist in the resolution of many disputed matters when asked by the court or the parties in a contentious probate proceeding, thereby saving court time and expense.

"In most of the cases, there are little or no assets available to pay for the disposition of the body of the deceased or to pay creditors, court cost, or fees to the PA for the services provided. However, some interesting cases arise in which there are many assets to deal with," he says.

"Some of those cases are rewarding for me as the PA, but in some cases heirs are located that may have been estranged and the benefits received by them are probably not what the deceased would have wanted to have happen."

Meinhart was once contacted by the drafter of a trust where no appointed trustees were available to serve, and she was appointed as trustee.

"The gentleman had property with an airstrip, a self-designed septic system, and a handful of international patents," she says. "I worked with the county to sell the property in escrow after approval of a new system, and worked with a company in Troy that approached Fortune 500 companies regarding the purchase of the patents."

Another case involved a man who had been a hoarder. "I was able, after approval by the State PA, to donate an apartment full of men's winter clothing to St. Vincent de Paul to disperse to the poor in our community," she says. "They were definitely excited!"

Many attorneys are unaware or not clear on how they can use PAs, Meinhart notes.

"The court and other attorneys can use PAs in contested matters to serve as independent Personal Representatives or Trustees," she explains. "We're vetted by the State and appointed by the Attorney General to serve in this unique position. I've served in both roles and found heirs and beneficiaries to be more receptive to myself serving than someone either party has suggested. We also have the skill set of working with estates where we start at ground zero with our knowledge of the deceased person or their assets, so we're well versed in research and asset preservation."

In Washtenaw, PAs are used mainly as personal representatives or special personal representatives in estates where no heirs can be found, or where no heirs are willing or able to serve as PRs, she notes.

"The court can also appoint us as an uninterested PR when there are feuding heirs and beneficiaries, or where a PR needs to be appointed for a single action, such as Quieting a Title to a previously foreclosed property. Our court has its own list of people they appoint as Guardian or Conservator if no one will serve, but we can most definitely assist with the process."

Meinhart enjoys her role as a PA. "It's rewarding in that I can serve my community with my knowledge as an attorney, as oftentimes we are not paid or only receive partial payment," she says. "I enjoy it because it presents many new facets to the position of Personal Representative and our role as a fiduciary."

Published: Thu, Nov 20, 2014


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