IN RE In the Matter of the ESTATE OF Stacy FELDMAN, Decedent.
Original Proceeding Pursuant to C.A.R. 21,
Denver Probate Court Case Nos. 18PR30274 & 18PR30656,
Honorable Elizabeth D. Leith, Judge
for Elizabeth Greenberg: Wade Ash Woods Hill & Farley, P.C.,
Herbert E. Tucker, Jody J. Pilmer, Denver, Colorado
for Special Administrator Melissa R. Schwartz: Gill &
Ledbetter, LLP, Anne Whalen Gill, Castle Rock, Colorado
for Robert Feldman: Lathrop Gage, LLP, Alison E. Zinn,
for Haddon, Morgan and Foreman, P.C.: Haddon, Morgan and
Foreman, P.C., Jeffrey S. Pagliuca, David S. Kaplan, David G.
Maxted, Denver, Colorado
Feldman and the law firm of Haddon, Morgan & Foreman
petitioned for relief pursuant to C.A.R. 21 from an order of
the probate court requiring the law firm to provide
information to the special administrator concerning its
representation of Feldman in a criminal prosecution for the
murder of his wife, and to deposit funds held in its client
trust account into the registry of the court. In response to
the assertion of the special administrator that Colorados
"slayer statute" applies to the funds at issue as
proceeds of the decedents life insurance policy, the probate
court determined that if Feldman were later found, in the
manner prescribed by the statute, to be the decedents
killer, he would be ineligible to receive those proceeds.
Against that eventuality, the probate court found that
compelling the return of the unearned funds in the firms
client trust account would be the only way to protect the
childrens interests, and that the courts equitable powers
permitted it to do so.
We issued our rule to show cause and now conclude that the
probate court abused its discretion by issuing its order
without weighing the considerations inherent in preliminarily
enjoining the law firm from expending further funds in the
representation of Feldman. In addition, however, because the
slayer statute expressly protects third parties who receive a
payment in satisfaction of a legally enforceable obligation
from being forced to return that payment or from liability
for the amount of the payment, no finding of a reasonable
likelihood of success in attempting to force the return of
the insurance proceeds would have been possible. Given this
resolution, the disclosures ordered by the court would not
serve their intended purpose. The rule is therefore made
As indicated in the probate courts order, Stacy Feldman died
in 2015 and that same year her husband, Robert Feldman,
received a disbursement of approximately $ 751,910 as the
sole beneficiary of an insurance policy on the decedents
life. Almost three years after his wifes death, Feldman was
charged with her murder. Pursuant to a fee agreement, he
retained the law firm of Haddon, Morgan & Foreman to
represent him in this criminal matter, and his retainer was
deposited into the firms client trust account.
Those trust account funds, the probate court found, were
derived from the life insurance proceeds distributed to
Feldman, and he intended to spend approximately $ 550,000
remaining from those proceeds to fund his criminal defense.
The record demonstrates that after criminal charges were
filed against Feldman, Elizabeth Greenberg, as guardian for
the Feldmans two minor children, filed two petitions with
the Denver probate court concerning the decedents estate.
The first petition asked for relief under Colorados
"slayer statute," § 15-11-803, C.R.S. (2018), and
for a ...