Case Caption: In re Estate of Earl L. Small, Jr.Case Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2010-0096Date: 09/17/2012Author: Cabret, Maria M. Citation: Summary:

In an application by two personal injury plaintiffs to set aside final distribution of the estate of a decedent who allegedly had struck their vehicle while intoxicated, the Superior Court did not commit reversible error in affirming the decision of a magistrate who denied the requested relief. After appellants' personal injury suit was commenced, their counsel was notified by letter of the decedent's death in an unrelated accident. The widow filed a petition to admit his will to probate, and notices of the probate proceedings were published for the benefit of creditors in a local newspaper, satisfying the statutory requirements provided in 15 V.I.C. § 391. However, under constitutional case law, in the circumstances of this case the appellants were entitled to actual notice of the commencement of proceedings to settle the estate. Because their claims were known and not unduly conjectural, published notice alone would have been insufficient to protect their rights. In determining whether the required notice was provided, the affidavit of appellants' counsel, which was not submitted to the magistrate as finder of fact under 4 V.I.C. § 123, but only to the Superior Court on the appeal, will not be considered. On the facts presented here, the Superior Court did not err in holding that the magistrate's determination that the appellants had actual notice of the commencement of probate proceedings was not clearly erroneous, in light of the written notice given to their counsel of the decedent's death and the fact that their attorney made direct contact with the counsel involved with the estate. The Superior Court's decision, upholding the magistrate's refusal to set aside the final distribution of the estate, is affirmed.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion