E-Alert Case Updates
Dying In Another County in Maryland May Change Your “Residency” For Purposes Of Creditors To Your Estate
Boer v. University Specialty Hospital
This case presented a very narrow legal issue, but one of first impression. MD. CODE ANN., EST. & TRUSTS § 8-104(c) permits a creditor to file a claim against a decedent’s estate prior to the appointment of a personal representative. Because, in such a situation, no estate has yet been opened and no Orphans’ Court has therefore assumed jurisdiction, the law permits the creditor to file the claim with the register of wills in any of three counties: where the decedent was domiciled, where the decedent “resided” on the date of his or her death, or where real property or a leasehold interest in real property of the decedent is located. The only legal issue before the Court of Appeals was what is meant by “resided.”
The relevant facts were undisputed. The decedent, Dorothy Faya, lived for most of her 82 years at her home in Catonsville, in Baltimore County. On November 29, 2002, when she was 81 and had been living alone for some time, she suffered a fall and was taken by ambulance to St. Agnes Hospital. She remained at St. Agnes, which is located in Baltimore City, for about three weeks, until December 21, 2002. Upon her discharge, the intent was to take Ms. Faya to a nursing home in Catonsville, but, while en route, she became unable to breathe on her own, so she was taken instead to University Specialty Hospital (“USH”), located in Baltimore City, and placed on artificial life support — a ventilator and a feeding tube. Ms. Faya remained at USH on the ventilator and feeding tube until her death eleven months later. During such time, she was mentally competent, but unable to talk.
Prior to the opening of an estate and the appointment of a personal representative, USH filed a claim with the register of wills in Baltimore City. On February 18, 2004, Ms. Faya’s will was admitted to probate in Baltimore County and her son-in-law, John Boer, was appointed as personal representative. On October 1, 2004, USH filed a claim for $206,343 — the actual amount owed — with the register of wills in Baltimore County. The personal representative denied the claim on the ground that it was not filed timely – within six months after the decedent’s death — and that the claim filed in Baltimore City, which was timely, was invalid because, in his view, Ms. Faya did not “reside” in the City at the time of her death. Litigation ensued, the Orphans’ Court for Baltimore County found in favor of the personal representative, which the Circuit Court for Baltimore County affirmed. The Court of Special Appeals, however, reversed the Circuit Court’s ruling, and resolved the issue by applying traditional rules of statutory construction. The court held that Ms. Faya’s “bodily presence as an inhabitant of a Baltimore City health facility at the time of her death” qualified her as a resident of Baltimore City when she died.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the Court of Special Appeals’ decision. The Court held that if a decedent dies in a county other than that of her domicile, then the question of whether she “resided” there, for purposes of MD. CODE ANN., EST. & TRUSTS § 8-104(c) must be determined principally by objective facts of why and for how long she was in that county and whether there was any actual prospect of her leaving it in the near or foreseeable future. Thus, because Ms. Faya died while a patient in a chronic care hospital where she had lived on artificial life support for eleven months with no prospect of ever being weaned off it and, therefore, no prospect of ever returning to her home in another county, she must be regarded as having died while a resident of the county where the USH was located, i.e., Baltimore City. Therefore, a claim filed with the register of wills in that county was permissible.
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