Child Support

A Beneficiary Share of an Estate is Subject to a Family Court Judgment for Child Support

In the estate administration litigation case which was coupled with child support issues of In Re Estate of Creamer, PICS Case No. 14-1760, (C.P. Philadelphia, Sept. 30, 2014), the Honorable John W. Herron ruled that a beneficiary’s share of his father’s estate is subject to a Family Court judgment for Child support of his children where the decedent father’s will contained a spendthrift provision. The account could not be confirmed as stated and was returned unaudited.

Roy A. Creamer, Sr. died on April 16, 2012. He was survived by his spouse, Joan Creamer, and seven children. In his will dated Feb. 25, 2011, Roy Sr. specifically devised his real property in Ventor, New Jersey, to his son, Roy Creamer, Jr. He gave the residue of his estate to be divided equally among his seven children. The will set forth a spendthrift provision. Decedent’s wife was completely left out of his will. She filed a spousal election against the will.

Primarily at issue here was the set of objections filed by Patricia Smith, the mother of the children of decedent’s son.  Patricia challenged Joan’s spousal election against the will, asserted the estate had made distributions that had not been set forth in the account. She asserted that Dawn Creamer, the executrix, should be removed for “administering the estate to benefit her brother, Roy Jr. over the rights of Roy Jr.’s children.”

Dawn and her mother raised preliminary objections to Patricia’s claims. They claimed that Patricia had no standing to raise any objections to the administration of the estate. Dawn asserted that Patricia falsely claimed to be a creditor of the estate, merely because she was the parent of the children of Roy Jr., a beneficiary under his father’s will. At best, she was a creditor of Roy Jr. and not his father’s estate.

Dawn further argued that because decedent’s will contained a spendthrift provision, Patricia, even if a creditor, lacked standing to proceed against the estate. Joan raised similar arguments in her preliminary objections, asserting more specifically that Patricia lacked standing to object to her spousal election against the estate.

Ordinarily, a spendthrift provision would shield a beneficiary’s share from the claims of creditors while in possession of the fiduciary; an exception has been recognized in case law and statute for a beneficiary’s child who has a judgment for support. In light of this exception, Dawn had to first honor the judgment in favor of Roy Creamer, Jr.’s children before making any distribution to him. According to the statement of proposed distribution, Roy Jr. was entitled to one-seventh of the remaining principal after Joan Creamer’s claim for an elective share of the estate. In addition, he was to receive the balance from the sale of the New Jersey property that was specifically bequeathed to him, after payment of expenses and Joan’s elective share. This raised the issue of the standing of Roy Jr.’s children who would have standing to the extent of their $16,289.87 judgment. If that judgment was paid in full, this matter was resolved. If, however, Dawn could not pay that total sum, the children would have standing to challenge Joan’s claim to an elective share.

The account could not be confirmed until it was clear that there were sums sufficient to satisfy the judgment in favor of Roy Jr.’s children. If this judgment could be fully satisfied from Roy Jr.’s share of the estate, guardians would have to be appointed for the children to press their claim against Dawn and the estate.

In light of the open issue as to whether the estate would be able to pay the $16,289.37 judgment in favor of the grandchildren, the court found the account could not be confirmed. It was returned unaudited.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 37PLW1086 November 11, 2014

Filed Under: Estate Litigation; Child Support Judgment; Estate Administration

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