Hesthagen v. Harby

In Hesthagen v. Harby, 78 Wn.2d 934, 481 P.2d 438 (1971), the Court imposed a constructive trust in favor of the rightful intestate heirs of an estate because the heirs were not given notice of the probate proceeding. Hesthagen, 78 Wn.2d at 945-46. The claimants in Hesthagen were the nieces and nephew of the decedent and "actual" heirs under the then existing intestacy statute. Id. at 936, 938. They were not notified of the estate distribution until more than three years after it had occurred, and they brought an action seeking imposition of a constructive trust against the original distributees and the estate administrator. Id. at 936, 944. Failure to deliver notice to the heirs in Hesthagen was unreasonable as "sources of information were readily available which would have revealed the existence of plaintiffs as surviving heirs . . . ." Id. at 938. Since the heirs' names and addresses "were ascertainable by the exercise of due diligence" we found that the heirs were denied procedural due process and that "such a deprivation amounts to a jurisdictional defect as to them, rendering the decree of distribution void." Id. at 942. The claimants in Hesthagen did not seek to reopen the probate. Id. at 945. Instead they sought imposition of a constructive trust against the defendants. Id. The Court imposed the constructive trust, noting that: What is important is that the administrator, as a fiduciary, violated his duty to ascertain and notify the heirs. When this breach of duty caused or resulted in the propertyin the estate being transferred to the distributees, they received it and held the other heirs' portion of it under a constructive trust for the other rightful heirs. Id. at 946.