Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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Walter and Mary Van Riper transferred ownership of their marital home to a single irrevocable trust. Walter passed away shortly after transfer of the property to the trust. Six years later, after Mary passed away, the trustee distributed the property to the couple’s niece. In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether the New Jersey Division of Taxation (Division) properly taxed the full value of the home at the time of Mary’s death. Walter and Mary directed that, if sold, all proceeds from the sale of their residence would be held in trust for their benefit and would be utilized to provide housing and shelter during their lives. Walter died nineteen days after the creation of the Trust. Mary died six years later, still living in the marital residence. Mary’s inheritance tax return reported one-half of the date-of-death value of the marital residence as taxable. However, the Division conducted an audit and imposed a transfer inheritance tax assessment based upon the entire value of the residence at the time of Mary’s death. Mary’s estate paid the tax assessed but filed an administrative protest challenging the transfer inheritance tax assessment. The Division issued its final determination that the full fair market value of the marital residence held by the Trust should be included in Mary’s taxable estate for transfer inheritance tax purposes. The Appellate Division affirmed the Tax Court’s conclusion, rejecting the estate’s argument that transfer inheritance tax should only be assessed on Mary’s undivided one-half interest in the residence. The Supreme Court agreed with both the Tax Court and the Appellate Division that the Division properly taxed the entirety of the residence when both life interests were extinguished, and the remainder was transferred to Marita. The property’s transfer, in its entirety, took place “at or after” Mary’s death, and was appropriately taxed at its full value at that time. “In light of the estate-planning mechanism used here, any other holding would introduce an intolerable measure of speculation and uncertainty in an area of law in which clarity, simplicity, and ease of implementation are paramount.” View "Estate of Mary Van Riper v. Director, Division of Taxation" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of disputes related to trusts formed by the late Texas oil baron, H.L. Hunt. At issue was the settlement involving plaintiff, H.L.'s grandson, in which he agreed to not contest the last will and testament of his father in exchange for a nine-figure payout. After his father's death, plaintiff challenged the will in Texas probate court, lost, and appealed. Plaintiff's sisters then asked the federal court to enforce the settlement agreement and to enjoin plaintiff's will challenges, which the district court granted. The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiff's appeal of the injunction was mostly moot, because the Texas appeals court has lost jurisdiction over plaintiff's state appeal and plaintiff has withdrawn his failed will challenges in the probate court. In this case, the terms of the injunction related to those probate proceedings have been irrevocably fulfilled. However, in regard to the terms of the injunction that prohibit plaintiff from challenging his father's will ever again, those terms were not moot. As to those terms, the court held that plaintiff's challenges failed. Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal as to the following, already-fulfilled terms of the injunction: its prohibition on contesting plaintiff's will in the current probate proceedings; its prohibition on appealing the probate court's order regarding the settlement agreement; its prohibition on appealing the probate court's admission of the will; and its obligation to dismiss or withdraw his claims in probate court, including through appeal. The court affirmed the remainder of the order, including the following, future-looking terms of the injunction: its prohibition on contesting plaintiff's will "in any manner," in any court; and its prohibition on "filing, pursuing, or prosecuting any action . . . that violates the terms of the Settlement Agreement or Final Judgment." The court remanded to the district court for consideration of whether the sisters were entitled to additional costs and fees. View "Hill v. Washburne" on Justia Law

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In this will contest, the Supreme Court reversed the district court's decision granting summary judgment determining that the decedent's will was valid, holding that where the bill of exceptions did not contain the proponent's evidence there was no evidence to support the summary judgment for the proponent. After Appellee filed an application for informal probate in county court Appellant filed an objection. The matter was transferred to district court, which entered summary judgment determining that the decedent left a valid will. Appellant appealed. The bill of exceptions, however, contained only Appellant's evidence, and Appellee's evidence did not appear in the bill. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the matter, holding that because Appellee did not produce her evidence in a manner so as to be included in a bill of exceptions she effectively failed to make a prima facie case. View "Bohling v. Bohling" on Justia Law

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Carolyn Bowen Young had medical problems affecting her ability to make financial decisions, so a chancery court appointed a conservator over her estate. When Carolyn’s conservatorship no longer was necessary, the chancery court terminated the conservatorship by agreement of Carolyn’s husband, her sons, her conservator, and the guardian ad litem. But the judgment also made provisions for Carolyn’s funds to be retained in the registry of the court, an agreement to which Carolyn was not privy. Carolyn later requested release of the entirety of her funds, which the chancery court denied. Carolyn appealed, but died shortly after filing the appeal. Jim Young, Carolyn’s husband, filed, substituted himself as a party. The Mississippi Supreme Court found the chancery court erred by continuing to hold Carolyn’s funds in the registry of the court after the conservatorship was terminated. Furthermore, the Court found the chancery court abused its discretion by sua sponte ordering that the sons’ attorneys’ fees be paid out of Carolyn’s funds held in the registry of the court. Because Carolyn was deceased, issues on cross-appeal were moot. View "In the Matter of the Conservatorship of Carolyn Bowen Young" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the probate court denying Appellant's petition for formal adjudication of intestacy and appointment of personal representative of the estate of her former husband, David Washburn, on behalf of their minor son, holding that the probate court did not err. Specifically, the Court held (1) the probate court did not err in finding that David Washburn had sufficient testamentary capacity to execute a valid will; and (2) the probate court did not err by determining that there was no evidence that could sustain a finding of undue influence by a clear and convincing evidence standard. View "In re Estate of Washburn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the probate court denying L.'s petition for termination of his adult guardianship, holding that the court applied an incorrect standard of proof in contravention of Me. Rev. Stat. 18-A, 5-307(d). In denying L.'s petition the probate court determined that L. "failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that his adult guardianship was no longer necessary for his safety and well-being." The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding (1) Me. Rev. Stat. 18-A, 5-307(d) sets forth the burden of proof applicable to L.'s petition for termination of guardianship; and (2) the probate court in this case failed to apply the proper statutory standard of proof in denying L.'s petition. View "In re Adult Guardianship of L." on Justia Law

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Glenvin Albrecht (“Glen”) appealed judgment entered in favor of the Estate of Sharleen Albrecht (“Estate”) regarding certain assets in which he had an ownership interest. In February 2010, Glen sued Sharleen for divorce after nearly 50 years of marriage. Sharleen died on July 29, 2013, before a final divorce judgment was entered. The district court entered a final divorce judgment after her death, and the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed, holding Sharleen's death abated the divorce action. Sharleen had a will, and Sharleen and Glen's son, Mark Albrecht, was appointed personal representative of the Estate. In February 2017, the Estate petitioned for the return, partition, and sale of estate assets. The Estate alleged Sharleen owned a one-half interest in various farm machinery, equipment, and vehicles, which were in Glen's control. The Estate alleged a partition and sale of the assets was necessary to satisfy estate expenses. Glen objected to the petition, arguing Sharleen did not have an ownership interest in the assets. A trial was conducted in 2018, the result of which ended with judgment in favor of the estate. Glen argued on appeal that the district court erred by finding Sharleen had an interest in the assets at issue, and the court abused its discretion by allowing personal representative’s and attorney’s fees. Finding no reversible error or abuse of discretion, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Estate of Albrecht" on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to address whether two children who were named beneficiaries in a will were pretermitted heirs. After Fred Franklin James, Sr.'s will was admitted for probate, two of this three children objected to it. One of the children (the daughter) asserted that some of the father's real property, a mechanic's/body shop, should belong to her because she had purchased it from her father pursuant to an oral contract. The other child (a son) asserted that he was a pretermitted heir because the proceeds of the insurance policy his father left to him in the will had beneficiaries inconsistent with the will. In a second, separate case, the daughter also filed a breach of contract/creditor/equitable action against the estate also, again asserting that she purchased the body shop from her father pursuant to an oral agreement. The trial court consolidated the cases and determined that both children were pretermitted. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined neither child was pretermitted because their beneficiary status on a non-probate asset differed from a bequest in a will. The Court reversed part of the trial court's order which found both children were pretermitted. "While the daughter may be entitled to a refund for money she paid to the decedent or improvements she made to the shop property, because she was not pretermitted, she is not entitled to an intestate share of the shop property." Consequently, the consolidated case was remanded for further proceedings. View "In re The Estate of James" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the court of appeals dismissing Richard Allen Reed's appeal from a criminal restitution order, holding that the legislature lacked authority to require the court to dismiss a pending appeal upon a convicted defendant's death but possessed authority to prohibit abatement of the defendant's conviction and sentence. Reed was convicted of voyeurism and required to pay $17,949.50 as restitution to the victim. Reed appealed, challenging the restitution amount. Reed appealed, but pending a decision, Reed died. Reed's wife moved to intervene or substitute as a party in the appeal. The court of appeals denied the motion because the wife did not cite authority permitting intervention or substitution in a criminal case. The court then dismissed the appeal pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-106(A). The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' opinion and remanded the case to the court of appeals, holding (1) the legislature lacked authority to require the court to dismiss a pending appeal upon a convicted defendant's death under section 13-106(A); but (2) the legislature possessed authority to prohibit abatement of that defendant's conviction and sentence under section 13-106(B). View "State v. Reed" on Justia Law

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Zambia Player appealed two circuit court orders issued in regard to her administration of the estate of her brother, Jabari Player. Jabari died intestate in 2013, leaving as his sole heir at law his 14-year-old daughter J.C. In 2017, Zambia filed a "Petition for Letters of Administration," and, after posting a bond, she was appointed administratrix of Jabari's estate. Zambia filed an "Inventory of the Estate of Jabari Player," which showed the value of Jabari's estate to be $20,862. J.C. protested this inventory through counsel. For reasons that were not clear, a guardian ad litem was not appointed on J.C.'s behalf until four years later. For several years Zambia did nothing to close the estate or to surrender the property in the estate to J.C. Through her guardian ad litem, J.C. filed a petition to remove the estate to the Etowah Circuit Court. Following the removal of the estate, J.C. moved to compel an accounting. Zambia failed to comply with the accounting order; thereafter, J.C. moved to remove Zambia as personal representative of the estate. In response, Zambia filed a “petition for final settlement” of the estate. The circuit court still insisted on a “formal accounting.” At the hearing on J.C.’s motion to remove Zambia, Zambia appeared pro se and testified concerning her administration of the estate. Zambia essentially testified that she had relied upon her former attorney for all of her actions and that she did not mean to mismanage the estate, but Zambia essentially admitted that she had commingled estate funds and property with her personal accounts and property. The following day, the circuit court entered an order that, among other things, removed Zambia as personal representative of the estate, and it denied Zambia's petition for approval of her final accounting. The Supreme Court determined Zambia's appeal of the order removing her as personal representative of Jabari's estate was not timely; therefore that part of Zambia's appeal was not properly before the Supreme Court and was dismissed. Zambia also did not demonstrate that the circuit court erred in its order assessing damages against her for malfeasance in administering the estate. Therefore, that order was affirmed. View "Player v. J. C." on Justia Law