Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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Three of four siblings who were beneficiaries under an irrevocable trust attempted to remove the fourth sibling as a beneficiary by relying on a provision of the irrevocable trust that permitted seventy-five percent of the beneficiaries to amend the terms of the trust. The Court of Appeals held (1) the plain language of the modification provision granting the modification authority to the beneficiaries of the irrevocable trust does not grant authority for three beneficiaries of the trust to remove the fourth beneficiary; (2) the trust clearly manifests the settlor’s intent for the trust to benefit the four beneficiaries equally; and (3) therefore, the amendment in which the three beneficiaries purported to divest the fourth beneficiary was impermissible under the terms of the trust. View "Vito v. Grueff" on Justia Law

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Successor agent owed no fiduciary duties to principal before occurrence of contingencies stated in power of attorney. Ruth was named as executor of the estates of her parents, Thomas and Doris, following their deaths in 2012. As executor, Ruth filed two actions on behalf of the estates against her brother, Rodney, involving quitclaim deeds signed by Thomas in 2011 which conveyed farmland to Rodney. At the time of these transactions, Rodney was designated as the successor agent under both Thomas’s and Doris’s powers of attorney. The estates alleged that Rodney breached his fiduciary and statutory duties as an agent by personally benefitting from the real estate transactions. The Grundy County circuit court dismissed both actions. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the action involving Thomas’s estate and reversed with respect to Doris’s estate. The Illinois Supreme Court concluded that both actions were properly dismissed. The plain language of Thomas’s power of attorney appointed Rodney as agent only upon the occurrence of a specific contingency. Rodney’s authority to act on behalf of Thomas did not arise until Doris died, became incompetent, or became unwilling to act as an agent. Until that time, Rodney owed no fiduciary duties to Thomas. View "In re Estate of Shelton" on Justia Law

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The Vermont Supreme Court rejected plaintiff’s request to extend an exception to the general rule to the circumstances of this case, which wanted to impose on attorneys a duty to prospective beneficiaries of undrafted, unexecuted wills. Doing so, in the Court’s view, would undermine the duty of loyalty that an attorney owes to his or her client and invite claims premised on speculation regarding the testator’s intent. Plaintiff filed a complaint against both defendant and his law firm alleging that defendant committed legal malpractice and consumer fraud, specifically alleging defendant breached a duty of care by failing to advise mother on matters of her estate and failing to draft a codicil reflecting her intent. The court granted defendants a partial motion to dismiss on the consumer fraud allegation. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, adding another count of legal malpractice. This amended complaint alleged that defendant breached a duty owed to plaintiff to the extent that he could have successfully challenged mother’s will. According to plaintiff, he filed six affidavits from mother’s relatives, friends, and neighbors indicating that mother was committed to leaving a House she owned to plaintiff. Defendants again moved for summary judgment in which they argued that an attorney did not owe “a duty to a non-client prospective beneficiary of a nonexistent will or other estate planning document.” The trial court ruled there was no duty to beneficiaries of a client’s estate under Vermont law. The Supreme Court agreed. View "Strong v. Fitzpatrick" on Justia Law

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This case involved a revocable trust established by Virginia Newman. Her two sons, Roger and Frank Lamson, were both beneficiaries and trustees of the trust. Roger filed an action in the probate division alleging breach of trust by Frank. The court ruled in Roger’s favor on his claim arising from Frank’s personal use of Virginia’s vehicles. Frank appealed and the civil division granted Frank summary judgment on that claim. Roger filed this appeal, arguing that the civil division erred in concluding Frank did not violate his fiduciary obligation and in failing to award damages for Frank’s use of the vehicle. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Lamson v. Lamson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a claim against Testator’s estate for $2 million. The superior court awarded Plaintiff the amount requested under the provisions of the Testator’s last will and testament. The hearing justice then reduced the $2 million by the proceeds of a life insurance policy, ultimately granting summary judgment to Plaintiff in the amount of $1,550,000. Thereafter, the hearing justice awarded Plaintiff the requested amount of attorney’s fees but denied her request for prejudgment interest. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the trial justice, holding that the trial justice erred in granting summary judgment where this matter required fact-finding and conclusions of law with respect to Testator’s intent because the will did not clearly specify under what circumstances Plaintiff was to receive the sum of $2 million or other amount; and (2) an earlier stipulation entered in the family court did not control the outcome of this case in accordance with the principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel. Remanded. View "Glassie v. Doucette" on Justia Law

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After the bankruptcy court granted Plaintiff a discharge of her debts, Plaintiff filed this action against the named defendants, alleging misuse of funds of a trust established by her mother. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to substitute the bankruptcy trustee as the proper plaintiff. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that Plaintiff failed to show that she had brought the action in her own name due to a mistake. The court then dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. While Plaintiff’s appeal was pending, the bankruptcy court granted the bankruptcy trustee’s motion to abandon the underlying cause of action. The Appellate Court affirmed. The Supreme Court dismissed Plaintiff’s appeal as moot, holding that because the bankruptcy trustee abandoned the underlying action and Plaintiff no longer was seeking to substitute the trustee as party plaintiff, resolution of this claim would afford Plaintiff no practical relief. View "Gladstein v. Goldfield" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of the wife under Code of Civil Procedure section 631.8, holding that despite the form of the bank accounts, when clear and convincing evidence shows funds were transferred to an account owner to hold in an irrevocable trust for a third party beneficiary and the trustee repudiates the trust, a constructive trust may be imposed on the funds for the beneficiary's estate to prevent unjust enrichment. In this case, the wife agreed to hold funds in trust for her husband's elderly stepmother, she changed the form of the accounts after her husband's death and used the funds for her own purposes, and the stepmother's personal representative filed suit seeking to impose a constructive trust on the funds after the stepmother passed away. The Court of Appeal explained that the wife held the funds in the accounts in trust for the stepmother, and her repudiation of the trust by removing the stepmother's name from the accounts and using the funds for her own purposes was a wrongful act supporting the imposition of a constructive trust. View "Higgins v. Higgins" on Justia Law

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These consolidated appeals concerned orders issuing a preliminary injunction, appointing a temporary trustee, granting summary judgment, and awarding attorney fees in a trust action. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and dismissed in part, holding (1) the district court correctly granted summary judgment regarding the trust interpretation; (2) the district court correctly granted summary judgment regarding the trustee’s breach of fiduciary duties of impartiality and to avoid conflicts of interest, and consequently, attorney fees were warranted; and (3) the preliminary injunction merged with the final judgment and was therefore moot. View "In re W.N. Connell & Marjorie T. Connell Living Trust" on Justia Law

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In this dispute between the adult children of Robert T. McDowell and Betty Jane McDowell, the county court found ineffective Betty’s exercise of a limited power of appointment given to her by Robert’s trust when she appointed the assets in Robert’s trust to her own revocable trust. The court ordered that the assets be recovered and distributed through Robert’s trust. The Supreme Court modified the county court’s decision to the extent it failed to find that the trustee of Robert’s trust breached the trust and otherwise affirmed, holding that the trustee breached the trust when he distributed certain trust assets pursuant to an invalid exercise of appointment. View "In re Robert L. McDowell Revocable Trust" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that “devisees” are “interested persons” under Mont. Code Ann. 72-1-103(12) and (25) and Mont. Code Ann. 72-5-413 without possessing any other right or claim, and therefore, Petitioners had standing to bring their petition to remove Respondent as conservator for Gregory Engellant. Section 72-5-413 allows a “person interested in the welfare” of a conserved person to petition for an order removing the conservator. The district court concluded that Petitioners were not interested persons because they were only devisees under Gregory’s will and therefore had only an expectancy interest that was insufficient to grant them standing. The Supreme Court reversed in an opinion limited to the issue of standing, holding that the term “interested person” defined in section 72-1-103(25) includes Petitioners. View "In re Estate of Gregory Engellant" on Justia Law