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AGO 1952 No. 214 - January 15, 1952
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

DISPOSITION OF MONEY AND PERSONAL PROPERTY OF DECEASED INMATES OF PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS ‑- CHAPTER 138, LAWS OF 1951.

Where the value of money or property in the custody of a superintendent of a state institution at the time of an inmate's death, belonging to the deceased inmate, exceeds $300.00, the superintendent must deliver such money or property to the administrator or executor of the estate of said deceased inmate.

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                                                                 January 15, 1952

Honorable Harold D. Van Eaton
Director of Public Institutions
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                  Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 214

Attention:  !ttMr. V. E. Billow, Assistant Supervisor of Maintenance

Dear Sir:

            Receipt is acknowledged of your letter dated December 7, 1951, in which you request our opinion as to whether a superintendent of a state institution who pays funeral expenses pursuant to subsection 3, section 2, chapter 138, Laws of 1951, out of funds deposited with him and there then remains $300.00 or less in the fund, may release those remaining funds or property to the person or persons designated in subsection 2, section 2 of the aforesaid chapter?

            It is our conclusion that a superintendent does not have the authority to release said remaining funds or property to the person or persons designated by subsection 2, section 2, chapter 138, Laws of 1951.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Chapter 138, Laws of 1951, is concerned with the authority of a superintendent of a state institution to dispose of money and property of deceased inmates.  We are concerned particularly with the authority of the superintendent to release funds or property remaining in his custody before the expiration of two years after the death of an inmate.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Section 2, chapter 138, Laws of 1951, reads:

            "Prior to the expiration of the above two year period, the superintendent may transfer such money or property in his possession, upon request and satisfactory proof submitted to him, to the following designated persons:

            "(1) To the executor or administrator of the estate of such deceased inmate; or

            "(2) To the next of kin of the decedent, where such money and property does not exceed the value of three hundred dollars, and the person or persons requesting same shall have furnished an affidavit as to his or her being next of kin; or

            "(3) In the case of money, to the person who may have deposited such money with the superintendent for the use of the decedent, where the sum involved does not exceed three hundred dollars:  Provided, That transfer of such money or property may be made to the person first qualifying under this section and such transfer shall exonerate the superintendent from further responsibility relative to such money or property:  And provided further, That upon satisfactory showing the funeral expenses of such decedent are unpaid, the superintendent may pay up to three hundred dollars from said deceased inmate's funds on said obligation."

            We are of the opinion that the legislature intended to grant a supervisor the authority to pay funeral expenses up to $300.00 from a deceased inmate's funds.  Though such authority is granted in a proviso in subsection 3, section 2, it was the clear intent of the legislature to grant authority to a superintendent to provide for a decent burial of inmates.  Subsection 3 of section 2 is an explicit grant of authority to a superintendent to pay funeral expenses up to $300.00 from a deceased inmate's funds.

            The controlling terms of subsection 2, section 2 are "such money and property does not exceed the value of three hundred dollars."  The antecedent of "such money and property" is found in section 1 of the act as expressed in the following language:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "Where, * * * there remains in the custody of the superintendent of such institution,money or property belonging to said deceased inmate, * * *" (Emphasis supplied)

            Thus, "such money and property" can be only money or property belonging to said deceased inmate.  Incorporating the antecedent as above referred to with subsection 2, section 2, we find that the subsection would read:

            "To the next of kin of the decedent, where there remains in the custody of the superintendent of such institution, money or property belonging to said deceased inmate not exceeding the value of three hundred dollars * * *"

            We, therefore, opine that where the value of the property or money in the custody of a superintendent at the time of an inmate's death, belonging to the deceased inmate, exceeds $300.00 the superintendent cannot deliver such money or property to the person or persons designated in subsection 2, but is controlled by subsection 1, section 2 of the statute.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

J. HOUSTON VANZANT, JR.
Assistant Attorney General

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