Superior Court Case Confirms Importance of Planning For Domestic Partners

Contributed by Nora Gieg Chatha

The Pennsylvania Superior Court’s opinion last week in the matter of In Re Estate of Devoe, 2013 PA Super 228 (August 8, 2013) illustrates the complicated estate administration issues that can arise when a “domestic partner” dies.

In 1998 Richard Devoe and his domestic partner, James Mooney, purchased a residence as joint tenants with right of survivorship.  In 2008 Richard took out a bank loan to finance his separate business activities.   Despite not having any interest in Richard’s business activities, James agreed to allow their jointly owned residence to be used as security for Richard’s bank loan.

Richard Mooney died in 2009 and his estate delayed paying the bank loan, resulting in the bank’s foreclosure on the residence which was, at that point, owned solely by James Mooney.  Mooney sold the residence and paid off the bank loan under the threat of the foreclosure, and then sought reimbursement from Richard’s estate.

The Superior Court decision reversed the trial court’s denial of Mooney’s claim against the estate. The Superior Court held that Mooney had an equitable subrogation claim that the lower court should have considered.

The Superior Court found that Mooney had a legal duty to pay the debt due to the estate’s refusal to pay the bank loan, holding that “[t]he law will not penalize a surety for good faith conduct that resulted in a party being completely and promptly paid.”

To read more about the case click here: