IN THE MATTER OF ROBERT H. WATKINS, JR.
Orphans' Court for Prince George's County Estate No.
Berger, Leahy, Eyler, James R. (Senior Judge, Specially
JAMES R., J.
F. Watkins, Jr. ("the Decedent") died on August 30,
2014 at the age of 82. He was survived by his third wife of
less than two years, Emeline Wilson Watkins
("Emeline"), the appellant; his adult daughter from
his second marriage and the personal representative of his
estate, Shannon Watkins ("Shannon"), the appellee;
and his adult daughter from his first marriage, Hannah Ink
("Hannah"). The Decedent's second wife of 52
years, Jasmine Watkins ("Jasmine") predeceased him
September 18, 2014, Shannon filed a petition for
administrative probate with the Register of Wills for Prince
George's County. By order of September 24, 2014, the
Decedent's Last Will and Testament dated January 28,
1999, together with a Codicil dated November 16, 2006
(collectively "the Will"), were admitted to probate
and Shannon was appointed Personal Representative of the
Estate. Shannon filed a Petition for Ancillary Administrative
Probate in Broward County, Florida, where the Decedent owned
real property ("the Florida Probate Action").
March 23, 2015, Emeline filed in the Orphans' Court for
Prince George's County an "Objection and Petition to
Revoke Probate and Letters Testamentary" on the ground
that the Decedent was domiciled in Florida, not Maryland,
when he died. She asserted that the Maryland probate
matter should be closed and that the Decedent's Maryland
assets should be administered by a foreign personal
representative within the Florida Probate Action.
in her individual capacity and as Personal Representative,
opposed Emeline's petition to revoke probate. She
maintained that the Decedent was domiciled in Maryland when
he died and asserted that Emeline's marriage to the
Decedent was procured by fraud, duress, and undue influence.
Shannon asked the Orphans' Court to overrule
Emeline's objection and rule that she was barred from
receiving any share of the Estate based upon a Florida
statute and/or under the common law doctrine of unclean
Emeline filed in the Orphans' Court her "Election to
take Statutory Share of the Estate," pursuant to Md.
Code (2001, 2011 Repl. Vol.), section 3-203(b) of the Estates
and Trusts Article ("ET").
a hearing in the Orphans' Court, a two-judge panel issued
an opinion and order. The court, applying Maryland law,
found, in pertinent part, that the Decedent was domiciled in
Maryland when he died; that Emeline procured her marriage to
the Decedent by undue influence; and that in light of her
conduct and by operation of a Florida statute, she was
ineligible to receive any benefit from the Estate.
appealed, and in her brief, presented three questions which
we have condensed and rephrased as two:
I. Did the Orphans' Court err by determining that the
Decedent was domiciled in Maryland when he died?
II. Did the Orphans' Court err or exceed its authority by
denying Emeline her statutory share of the Estate based upon
a finding that her marriage to the Decedent was procured by
argument, Emeline abandoned the first issue, clarified that
she was not challenging the factual finding of undue
influence and, for the first time, argued that the
Orphans' Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. For
the following reasons, we hold that the Orphans' Court
had subject matter jurisdiction and did not err. We shall
affirm the judgment of the Orphans' Court.
Orphans' Court held a three-day evidentiary hearing in
December 2015. In her case and on behalf of the Estate,
Shannon testified and called six witnesses: Jeffrey Komins
("Jeffrey"), Shannon's husband; Hannah; Craig
Nicholson, a close friend of the Decedent; Carlton Green,
Esq., the Decedent's personal lawyer and friend, who
testified both as a lay witness and as an expert in the field
of estate and probate administration, real estate law, and
business law; Brian Crowley, M.D., who testified as an expert
in psychiatry; and Emeline. In her case, Emeline testified
and called two expert witnesses: Robert Young, Esq., who
testified as an expert in estate and probate law; and
Christine Tellefsen, M.D., who testified as an expert in
psychiatry. We summarize the pertinent evidence.
Decedent was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in and
around Prince George's County, where his father was a
real estate developer involved in the establishment of
College Park. In 1937, the Decedent's father built a
family home at 4502 Beechwood Road in College Park, which has
since been designated as a historic property ("Beechwood
the Decedent was in his early twenties, he married Patricia
Morris Watson. Hannah was born of that marriage in
1956. Their marriage ended in divorce around
October 1959, the Decedent married Jasmine. They lived
together in Hollywood, Florida. Shannon was born to them in
1978, the Decedent, Jasmine, and Shannon moved to Maryland,
where they lived in a house on Drexel Road in College Park
that was owned by the Decedent's mother. (The
Decedent's father had died many years earlier.)
1987, the Decedent's mother died and the Decedent
inherited the Beechwood Road House. Shannon lived there with
the Decedent and Jasmine until 2004, when she married her
husband and purchased her own house nearby.
Decedent's family owned and managed numerous apartment
buildings in College Park, which he inherited. During his
marriage to Jasmine, she managed the rental properties by
collecting payments, advertising vacancies, paying taxes, and
arranging repairs. The Decedent and Jasmine also owned
thoroughbred racehorses and maintained an account with
Maryland Thoroughbred Purse Account, Inc., in Laurel
("Purse Account"). Their income was derived from
these business assets.
Decedent and Jasmine were "snowbirds" who routinely
traveled to Hollywood, Florida during the winter months, from
December through March, to stay in a house at 937 Adams
Street that Jasmine owned ("the Florida Property").
They made their last trip to the Florida Property together in
early 2012, shortly before Jasmine died.
his marriage to Jasmine, the Decedent was physically active
and social. He played golf several times each week. He and
Jasmine went to the racetrack together multiple times each
week, went out to dinner, went to the movies, and hosted
family for cookouts and celebrations. Shannon and Jeffrey
have two children, and the Decedent was extremely close to
them, spending time with them on a weekly basis.
2009, Jasmine was diagnosed with bladder cancer. The Decedent
was her primary caregiver during her illness, taking her to
all her medical appointments. By the end of 2011,
Jasmine's cancer had metastasized and she was terminally
early 2012, shortly before Jasmine died, the Decedent took
her to Bloomingdales in Chevy Chase to buy makeup. Emeline
worked at the cosmetics counter and assisted them. Emeline
learned during that encounter that Jasmine was sick. Emeline
also learned that the Decedent owned racehorses and she
expressed interest in seeing his horses race. Emeline and the
Decedent later arranged to meet for lunch at a P.F.
Chang's restaurant. Emeline denied that the Decedent
disclosed that Jasmine was dying of cancer during their
died on March 17, 2012. According to the Decedent's
longtime friend and lawyer, Mr. Green, the Decedent was
"absolutely devastated." Shannon described him as
"despondent" and a "mess." Jeffrey
characterized him as "very depressed." The Decedent
told Jeffrey that there was "no need for [him] to be
around anymore." The day after Jasmine's funeral,
the Decedent drove to Florida alone. He stayed for just a day
or two and then drove back. He later told Shannon that he