In re MARDIGIAN Estate.
MELISSA GOLDBERG, SUSAN V. LUCKEN, NANCY VARBEDIAN, EDWARD MARDIGIAN, GRANT MARDIGIAN, MATTHEW MARDIGIAN, and JP MORGAN CHASE BANK, NA, Appellees MARK S. PAPAZIAN, Executor for the Estate of ROBERT DOUGLAS MARDIGIAN, Appellant,
Charlevoix Probate Court. LC Nos. 12-011738-DE; 12-011765-TV.
MARK S PAPAZIAN, APPELLANT: RODGER D YOUNG, FARMINGTON HILLS,
MELISSA GOLDBERG, APPELLEE: JOSEPH A AHERN, BIRMINGHAM, MI.
SUSAN V LUCKEN, APPELLEE: MARC E THOMAS, BLOOMFIELD HILLS,
EDWARD MARDIGIAN, APPELLEE: PAUL D HUDSON, KALAMAZOO, MI.
MORGAN CHASE BANK NA, APPELLEE: KIMBERLY J RUPPEL, TROY, MI.
WILDER, P.J., and SERVITTO and STEPHENS, JJ. Servitto, J.
Mich.App. 555] Kurtis T. Wilder, P.J.
action originating in the Charlevoix Probate Court, appellees
contested the August 13, 2010 trust and the June 8, 2011 will
of decedent Robert D. Mardigian (decedent). Appellees
challenged the trust and will on the basis that appellant,
the proponent of the documents and the recipient, together
with his children, of the majority of decedent's estate,
also was the drafter of the documents in violation of the
Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC). In a motion
for summary disposition filed in the probate court under MCR
2.116(C)(10), appellees contended that the devises were void
as against public policy and, therefore, unenforceable. The
probate court granted the motion for summary disposition, and
this appeal ensued. For the reasons articulated herein, we
STATEMENT OF FACTS
August 13, 2010, decedent executed an amended [312 Mich.App.
556] trust prepared by appellant, decedent's longtime
friend and an attorney, which left the bulk of decedent's
estate to appellant and his children, Todd Papazian and Tyler
Papazian. Decedent also executed a will prepared by appellant
on June 8, 2011, that contained similar provisions. Decedent
died on January 12, 2012.
decedent's death, appellant sought to introduce the
documents he had prepared for probate, along with a petition
to be appointed personal representative pursuant to the
language in the document. Appellees Edward Mardigian, Grant
Mardigian, and Matthew Mardigian, decedent's brother and
nephews, respectively, challenged the introduction of these
documents into probate, as did two of decedent's nieces,
appellees Susan Lucken and Nancy Varbedian, and
decedent's girlfriend, appellee Melissa Goldberg. At the
same time, various appellees, primarily appellees Edward,
Grant, and Matthew Mardigian, contended that subsequent
writings by decedent, namely a letter with what appellant
termed " dubious" handwritten notes should be
submitted instead, as writings intended to be a will, and as
an amendment to decedent's trust.
discovery, appellees Edward, Grant, and Matthew Mardigian
moved for partial summary disposition and asked the probate
court to void all gifts contained in both the trust and the
will to appellant and his children, as a matter of law.
Edward, Grant, and Matthew Mardigian argued that the gifts
were against public policy, as evidenced by the MRPC,
specifically MRPC 1.8(c), which provides, " A lawyer
shall not prepare an instrument giving the lawyer or a [312
Mich.App. 557] person related to the lawyer as parent, child,
sibling, or spouse any substantial gift from a client,
including a testamentary gift, except where the client is
related to the donee." The probate court initially
denied the motion. However, after Edward, Grant, and
Matthew Mardigian verbally renewed their motion during the
hearing on November 6, 2013, the probate court then granted
the motion on the ground that, as a matter of public policy,
it could not enforce the documents.
the probate court granted the motion for summary disposition,
the matter proceeded toward a scheduled jury trial. On the
date of the scheduled trial, the probate court denied
appellant's motion for a stay under MCL 600.867(1);
however, the probate court and other parties agreed that
appellant could continue to participate in the subsequent
proceedings. For reasons not clear in the record, appellant
decided not to continue to participate in the proceedings.
Thereafter, the other parties reached a settlement concerning
the distribution of funds and the jury was excused. This
Court subsequently denied appellant's motion for a stay,
and denied reconsideration.
STANDARDS OF REVIEW
review de novo a trial court's ruling on a motion for
summary disposition. Dillard v Schlussel, 308
Mich.App. 429, 444; 865 N.W.2d 648 (2014).
When considering a motion for summary disposition under MCR
2.116(C)(10), a court must view the evidence submitted in the
light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. "
Summary disposition is appropriate under MCR 2.116(C)(10) if
there is no genuine issue regarding any material fact and the
moving party is entitled to [312 Mich.App. 558] judgment as a
matter of law." A genuine issue of material fact exists
when the evidence submitted " might permit inferences
contrary to the facts as asserted by the movant." When
entertaining a summary disposition motion under Subrule
(C)(10), the court must view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party, draw all reasonable
inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and refrain from
making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence. [
Id. at 444-445 (citations omitted).]
also review de novo the proper interpretation of trusts and
wills, as well as the interpretation of statutes. In re
Estate of Stan, 301 Mich.App. 435, 442; 839 N.W.2d 498
BINDING SUPREME COURT PRECEDENT
In re Powers Estate, 375 Mich. 150, 157, 176, 179;
134 N.W.2d 148 (1965), our Supreme Court held that a will,
devising the bulk of the estate to a member of the family of
the attorney who drafted the will, and also naming the
attorney as an additional beneficiary, was not necessarily
invalid. Rather, in such circumstances, a question of undue
influence exists, such that undue influence arising from the
relationship is presumed to have been exerted as the means to
secure the testamentary gift. Id. at 179. In
remanding for further proceedings, the Powers Court
This will contest is on no different legal and factual basis
than any other in our past jurisprudence and we caution court
and counsel if the case is retried to confine the testimony
to the issues:
(1) The well-defined, well-recognized test of the
testatrix' competency to execute
the testamentary instrument at the time she ...