Estate Administration - Law of the Case: Wehle v. Bradley


Wehle v. Bradley, [Ms. 1160214, Dec. 22, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2017). This unanimous decision by Justice Shaw (Stuart, C.J., and Bolin, Parker, Murdock, Main, Wise, Bryan, and Sellers, JJ., concur) reverses the Bullock Circuit Court’s judgment that the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate were limited to recovery of profits made by the personal representatives on fees prematurely paid by the representatives to themselves without court approval rather than legal interest on the improperly paid fees.

The Court noted the long and tortured history of the case which arises from the administration of Robert Wehle’s estate. Robert Wehle died on July 12, 2002. In the second of two prior appeals in the estate proceeding, the Court remanded to the circuit court to “‘award [] interestagainst the personal representatives.’” Ms. *14, quoting Wehle II, 195 So. 3d at 947. Accordingly, the Court rejected out of hand the personal representatives’ arguments that in regard to their having prematurely paid themselves over a million dollars in fees for their services in administering the estate, the beneficiaries of the estate were limited to the profits made by the representatives on those prematurely paid fees rather than legal interest. The Court noted that in such circumstances the election of whether to award interest to estate beneficiaries pursuant to § 43-2-509, Ala. Code 1975, “is not within the discretion of the trial court but at the option of the aggrieved party.” Ms. *13.

The Court also noted that due to the Court’s specific direction in Wehle II that the circuit court award the beneficiaries interest on the fees paid without court approval, that the representatives’ position was precluded by the law of the case doctrine which left the circuit court no discretion “‘to choose ... between the two options provided by statute’ nor did it permit the court to consider new evidence aimed at demonstrating the propriety of an alternate option.” Ms. *14.

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