Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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In 2010, Helen Edwards executed a will and created a trust leaving the majority of her estate to her niece, G.G. Verone. In 2014, Edwards executed a new will and amended her trust by leaving much of her estate to her handyman, Paul Degel, and to her housekeeper, Nancy Schulz. After Edwards died, Schulz petitioned for probate of the 2012 will. Verone cross-petitioned for probate of the 2010 will and for validation of the 2010 trust. A jury found in a special verdict that Degel or Schulz procured the 2012 will and 2012 trust by undue influence, fraud, or duress. The trial court, however, denied Verone’s requests to admit the 2010 will to probate, to validate the 2010 trust, and for attorney fees. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) substantial credible evidence existed to support the jury’s findings that the 2012 will and the 2012 trust were procured by undue influence, fraud, or duress; (2) the district court erred in refusing to admit the 2010 will to probate or to enforce the 2010 trust following the jury’s special verdict; and (3) the district court erred in refusing to award Verone attorney fees and certain costs. View "In re Estate of Edwards" on Justia Law

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Dori Lentz appealed an order and judgment denying her request to modify the distribution decrees of the Estate of Charlotte C. Nohle and ordering her to pay the estate's attorney's fees. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the requested modification or by awarding attorney's fees. View "Estate of Nohle" on Justia Law

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Joseph Gantner died in 2015, survived by his wife, Rachel Gantner, and two daughters, Meredith and Paige Gantner. After Joseph’s will was admitted to probate, Rachel filed for an elective share of Joseph’s estate and also requested a spousal support allowance. Meredith and Paige resisted Rachel’s application for spousal support, maintaining that several individual retirement accounts (IRAs) did not constitute part of the probate estate and, therefore, were beyond the reach of Rachel’s spousal allowance. As relevant to this appeal, Rachel was not a beneficiary of those IRAs. Rather, the executor confirmed that Meredith and Paige were their cobeneficaries. The probate court denied Rachel’s application for spousal allowance, concluding that the IRAs could not be used to pay an allowance to Rachel, who was not a beneficiary of those IRAs. Rachel appealed, arguing that she may reach the IRAs because they were “a transfer at death of a security registered in beneficiary form” under Iowa Code 633D.8. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that chapter 633D does not apply to an IRA where one or more nonspouses are designated the beneficiaries. View "In re Estate of Joseph C. Gantner III" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Fleur and her son, Sidney, filed breach of contract claims against Wilmington. A jury determined that defendants breached an agreement to lend money for the acquisition, maintenance, and certain investments relating to life insurance policies obtained for Charlie and his wife, Fleur. The jury awarded $23 million in damages. The district court then determined post-trial that Wilmington breached an agreement to return certain funds to the Estate upon Charlie's death, and ordered Wilmington to return those funds in accordance with the parties' agreement. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting an expert's testimony, because plaintiffs' noncompliance with Rule 26 was harmless in the context of the events that transpired. Furthermore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Wilmington's Daubert challenge. The court rejected Wilmington's challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence adduced at trial, and affirmed the district court's order requiring Wilmington to return to the Estate the $5 million in collateral payments that Charlie had made. The court affirmed the portion of the damages award representing the net-in-trust shortfall, because that award was not reached against the clear weight of the evidence, and would not result in a miscarriage of justice. Finally, the court held that the jury properly awarded plaintiffs $3.9 million in consequential damages, and that this award was neither contrary to the clear weight of evidence nor one that would cause a miscarriage of justice. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Bresler v. Wilmington Trust Co." on Justia Law

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At dispute in this case was an allegedly underfunded trust that was created by the decedent, Donelson Glassie (Donelson), for the benefit of his daughter, the late Jacquelin Glassie (Jacquelin), in accordance with a property settlement agreement between Jacquelin’s divorcing parents, Donelson and Marcia Glassie. After Donelson died, Jacquelin filed a claim against his estate, alleging that her father breached the property settlement agreement by failing to properly fund the trust. The claim was denied. Jacquelin then filed this action alleging breach of contract in that Donelson failed to carry out the provisions of the property settlement agreement. Jacquelin then died. Alison Glassie was appointed executrix of Jacqulin’s estate and was substituted as plaintiff in this action. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the executor of Donelson’s estate, concluding that the plaintiff lacked standing to sue the estate because, generally, only a trustee may institute an action on behalf of the beneficiaries of a trust. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the plaintiff lacked the requisite standing to sue her father’s estate for benefits she would have received based on her status as the beneficiary of the trust. View "Glassie v. Doucette" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Michael Harris was convicted of eight federal criminal counts related to theft from an employee benefit plan. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $646,000 in restitution. He paid only a small fraction of that amount. The government later learned that Harris was a beneficiary of two irrevocable, discretionary trusts established by his parents for his support. In 2015, the government applied for a writ of continuing garnishment for any property distributed to Harris from the trusts. The trustees opposed the application on the ground that Harris had disclaimed his interest in the trusts, with the exception of several checking and investment accounts. The district court granted the writ and ordered the trustees to pay to the United States all current and future amounts distributed to Harris under the trusts. After review, the Ninth Circuit concluded that Harris’s interest in the trusts qualified as property under the federal debt collection procedure that applied in this case. “The government is not attempting to compel distributions from the trusts. However, any current or future distributions from the trusts to Harris shall be subject to the continuing writ of garnishment, until the restitution judgment is satisfied.” View "United States v. Harris" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her three siblings, on behalf of her 88-year-old mother. Plaintiff claimed that her siblings' actions individually and while serving as trustees of her mother's revocable living trust constituted financial abuse of an elder or dependent adult. The siblings demurred. The mother, separately represented by counsel, intervened and joined the demurrer to the amended complaint. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend and dismissed the elder abuse action on standing grounds. The court concluded that the trial court did not err in ruling that plaintiff lacked standing to bring the elder abuse action because she has not be personally aggrieved by her siblings' actions. The court rejected plaintiff's claims to the contrary and affirmed the judgment. View "Tepper v. Wilkins" on Justia Law

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Joseph Gorman contracted with James Wilson to purchase a fifteen percent interest in Marine 1, LLC for $300,000. At the time Gorman died, he owed Wilson $187,000 on the contract. The probate court appointed William Lawrence as the executor of Gorman’s estate. The estate’s counsel was Joseph Goldsmith. Wilson’s attorney sent a letter addressed to both Gorman’s personal secretary and the trustee of his trust, purporting to present Wilson’s claim for approximately $200,000 to the executor of Gorman’s estate. The letter was then forwarded to Goldsmith and Lawrence. The trial judge found that the letter was not legally sufficient for presenting Wilson’s claim and granted the estate’s motion for summary judgment. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Ohio law permits a claim against an estate to be deemed presented when “other individuals connected with the estate receive the claim[.]” The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a claimant against an estate does not meet the mandatory requirement under Ohio Rev. Code 2117.06(A)(1)(a) to present a claim to the executor or administrator of an estate if the claimant delivers the claim to a person not appointed by the probate court, even if that person gives it to the executor or administrator. View "Wilson v. Lawrence" on Justia Law

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In 2011, eighty-six-year-old Carl Landgraf executed two joint warranty deeds conveying approximately 1,000 acres of farmland to Gail Neumeister and Marlene Neumeister. In 2012, Landgraf executed deeds to fix an error in the earlier deeds. After Landgraf’s death, Clarence Mock, as special administrator of Landgraf’s estate, sued the Neumeisters, alleging that the deeds were the product of undue influence and should be set aside. Following a trial, the district court found in favor of the Neumeisters on the claim of undue influence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Mock did not meet his burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence that the deeds were the result of undue influence. View "Mock v. Neumeister" on Justia Law

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In this appeal from the settlement of the estate of Fred Finch, Dean Anderson, a beneficiary, challenged the award of expenses, disbursements, and attorney’s fees to the personal representative, Coral Headrick. Specifically, Anderson argued (1) the circuit court erred when it granted allowed Headrick to retain $13,355.42 in fees as personal representative because Headrick engaged in self-dealing while acting as Finch’s fiduciary, and (2) the circuit court erred when it allowed Headrick to recover partial attorney’s fees for the estate’s attorney because the fees allowed were, in fact, fees incurred for the attorney’s work in defending Headrick’s improper self-dealing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the court properly found that Headrick was entitled to reasonable fees incurred for her time spent on the estate not relative to self-dealing; and (2) the court did not abuse its discretion in granting Headrick’s request to recover attorney’s fees from the estate for the work the estate’s attorney performed on behalf of the estate. View "In re Estate of Finch" on Justia Law