Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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When Lillie Mae Bedford died in 1997, she left a residential property in Marietta, Georgia by testamentary devise to her daughter, Jennifer Hood. Although the Bedford estate never made and delivered a deed to Hood to perfect a conveyance of legal title, Hood lived on the property for some time after the death of her mother, and she paid the taxes associated with it. But beginning in 2009, the taxes on the property were unpaid, and in 2013, the property was sold to Crippen & Lawrence Investment Co., Inc. at a tax sale. More than 12 months later, Crippen took steps to foreclose the statutory right of redemption, and Crippen gave Hood notice of foreclosure. Once the redemption period expired, Crippen petitioned for quiet title. Hood did not respond to the petition, but the Bedford estate appeared and moved to dismiss, asserting the estate was entitled to notice of the foreclosure, and had not been served with such notice. Crippen responded that the estate was not entitled to notice because the executor by his conduct had assented to the devise of the property, which by operation of law passed title to Hood notwithstanding that the estate had made and delivered no deed, and that the estate, therefore, no longer had any interest in the property. A special master of the trial court determined the estate was entitled to notice and dismissed the quiet title petition. Crippen appealed, but the Court of Appeals affirmed. Upon further appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: "assent may be presumed from legatee’s possession of the property. ... Although Crippen would not have standing to move a probate court to prospectively compel the executor of the Bedford estate to give assent that has been so far withheld, Crippen has standing in this quiet title proceeding to establish that the executor previously assented to the devise to Hood under the old Probate Code." View "Crippen & Lawrence Investment Co., Inc. v. A Tract of Land Being Known as 444 Lemon Street, et. al." on Justia Law

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In this declaratory action concerning the per stirpes distribution of two family trusts the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court rendering summary judgment for Defendants, the trustees of the trusts and potential beneficiaries, and dismissing this action brought by Plaintiffs, potential beneficiaries, holding that the trial court did not err.The two trusts in this case contained language that, upon the expiration of the trust term, the trust principal was to be distributed to the grantor's issue then living, per stirpes. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the trial court erred in concluding that the language of the trust agreements treated the grantors' children, rather than the grandchildren, as the heads of the respective stirpes for purposes of distributing the trust principal. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the trial court correctly concluded that the trust instruments unambiguously provided that the heads of the respective stirpes should be the grantors' children. View "Schwerin v. Ratcliffe" on Justia Law

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Dayna Foresee (Dayna) and Thomas Allen Foresee (Decedent) were married for thirty-nine years. The record was unclear as to precisely when the parties separated, but Dayna moved out of the parties' marital residence in Eufaula, Oklahoma and filed a divorce proceeding in Tulsa County in July 2019. Decedent had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). On December 31, 2019, he executed his Last Will and Testament, naming two of the parties' children, appellees Jeremy Foresee and Jacie Michelle Cook, to serve as co-personal representatives. Further, the will expressly excluded Dayna from taking anything from Decedent's estate. Decedent passed away from Lou Gehrig's disease on January 11, 2020. Two days later, Appellees filed a probate petition seeking appointment as special administrators of Decedent's estate. Appellees alleged the Decedent had "orally expressed wishes for disposition of his bodily remains." Dayna filed an objection contesting the decedent's will to probate, and sought a restraining order and injunction. She argued the will was invalid because the decedent was of unsound mind at the time of the will's drafting, thereby making any assignment of the right to control his body also invalid. Appellees claimed that as representatives of the Decedent's estate, duly appointed under the terms of his will, they were to be afforded statutory priority to control the disposition of the remains. The will vested the co-personal representatives with the power to pay debts associated with Decedent's "last illness, funeral, and burial;" however, nothing in the will explicitly entrusted them with control over decedent's remains. The trial court ruled the decedent's last will and testament sufficiently vested power over his remains in the named personal representatives, citing 21 O.S. 2011 §sections 1151(B) and 1158(2). The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained this appeal as a question of first impression and affirmed the trial court's ruling in part. The Supreme Court held that the will did not expressly assign authority over the remains such that it satisfied the requirements of section 1151(B); however, the personal representatives did have priority over the body according to section 1158(2). As such, the trial court properly denied surviving spouse's request for a temporary injunction. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Foresee" on Justia Law

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Attorney Craig Wise appealed a district court’s determination that he breached a duty of care owed to Billy Kyser, Jr., as a beneficiary of Carolyn Kyser’s will. Wise represented Billy’s mother, Carolyn, in divorce proceedings from Bill Kyser, Sr., and in preparing a will that bequeathed her entire estate in equal shares to Billy and his brother Brent Kyser. As part of the divorce proceedings, and before Carolyn’s will was completed, Carolyn and Bill Sr. executed a property settlement agreement in which Bill Sr. and Carolyn agreed to retain sequential life estates in the family home, with the remainder going to Brent and Billy as tenants in common upon the death of the last surviving parent. Wise prepared a deed memorializing the terms of the property settlement agreement. After Bill Sr. and Carolyn both passed away, Brent retained Wise to represent him as the personal representative of Carolyn’s estate. Brent also hired Wise independently to prepare a quitclaim deed transferring Billy’s interest in the home to Brent. Wise sent the deed to Billy, who then executed it. David Kalb, Billy’s court-appointed conservator, then filed a malpractice suit against Wise. After a court trial, the district court held Wise breached the duty he owed to Billy as a beneficiary of Carolyn’s will by preparing the deed because it frustrated Carolyn’s testamentary intent that her estate be divided equally between her two sons. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed the district court’s legal determination that Wise owed Billy a duty of care when Wise was acting as counsel for the personal representative of Carolyn’s estate, Brent. "Although Wise owed Billy a duty of care in drafting and executing Carolyn’s will, the district court impermissibly extended that duty by requiring that Wise ensure an asset outside the probate estate complied with Carolyn’s intent in her will." View "Kalb v. Wise" on Justia Law

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Harry Green owned multiple properties at the time of his death, eight of which were at issue in this appeal. Several years prior to his death, Harry conveyed these properties to his sister Shirley Cooley, and later had Shirley reconvey six of the properties back to him. The reconveyance deeds were not notarized or recorded. Years later, Harry executed a will that divested the properties to his wife, Cristina Green, and to his grandchildren. The chancery court and the Court of Appeals found that Harry never accepted the reconveyance deeds and declined to impose a constructive trust, holding that Shirley owned all eight properties. Because the evidence clearly indicates that Harry accepted the six reconveyance deeds, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the Court of Appeals and the chancery court as to the ownership of the six reconveyed properties. However, the Court found Cristina did not establish by clear and convincing evidence that a constructive trust was warranted. The Court therefore affirmed the judgments of the Court of Appeals and the chancery court regarding the ownership of the two properties not subject to reconveyance deeds. View "In Re Estate of Harry J. Green" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the probate court granting in part Petitioner's petition for discovery of property pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 18-C, 3-110 but limiting the scope of the examination of Lorraine Kerwin, holding that Petitioner's notice of appeal was timely and that the limitation of the discovery was not an abuse of discretion.Petitioner's father, the decedent, married Kerwin in 2005. After the decedent died in 2018, Kerwin filed an application for informal probate of a will and appointment of a personal representative. Petitioner field a claim against the estate concerning certain real estate that was held in a trust and for which Kerwin was a trustee. Kerwin disallowed the claim. Petitioner then filed a petition for discovery of property asserting that the transfer of real estate to the trust was the result of undue influence or fraud. The probate court granted Petitioner's request to examine the creation of the decedent's trust but limited Petitioner's examination of Kerwin. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Petitioner's notice of appeal was timely filed; and (2) the court did not abuse its discretion in limiting discovery. View "In re Estate of Robert W. Kerwin" on Justia Law

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Laurie Ann Ledbetter ("Laurie Ann") and Warren Lewis Ledbetter ("Warren") sued their brother, William Russell Ledbetter ("Russell") alleging he improperly used money placed in an oral trust by their deceased mother, Lois Ann Ledbetter ("Lois"). The circuit court entered a summary judgment in favor of Russell. Laurie Ann and Warren appealed, contending that they presented substantial evidence of the existence and terms of the oral trust. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed and reversed the circuit court. View "Ledbetter v. Ledbetter" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Alabama Supreme Court's review centered on whether, under the terms of a particular trust instrument, a person adopted as an adult was considered a lineal descendant of a beneficiary of the trust and, thus, a beneficiary. James Parris, G.D. Varn III, James V. Searse, Jr., and Samuel S. Parris appealed a partial summary judgment in favor of Phyllis Ballantine, Scott Harrison and Renee DuPont Harrison. The siblings argued that the use of the phrase "hereafter born" in defining "lineal descendants" in the 1971 trust implied that "adopted" descendants were excluded and demonstrated the trustors' intent that the 1971 trust benefit biological descendants only. The siblings also asserted the trustors defined "lineal descendants" in a manner different than the generic legal definition, while they defined "heirs" as all persons entitled to take by intestacy -– the primary, generic legal meaning. The Alabama Supreme Court found that at the time the 1971 trust was executed, there was no provision in the law authorizing the adoption of adults. "Although the Alabama Legislature enacted the Adult Adoption Act in 1973 authorizing the adoption of an adult for inheritance purposes, that act came into being two years after the 1971 trust was executed. ... [T]hose Code sections were repealed effective January 1, 1991, and replaced by the Alabama Adoption Code, section 26-10A-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. Accordingly, the probate court's judgment was affirmed on grounds that the law at the time the 1971 trust was executed did not allow adult adoption, that Samuel's adoption as an adult in 2016 did not make him a "lineal descendant" as that term was defined in the 1971 trust, and that, therefore, Samuel was not a beneficiary of the trust. View "Parris v. Ballantine et al." on Justia Law

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Defendants Alan Johnson and William Saturley were the former co-trustees of the 2004 David A. Hodges, Sr. Irrevocable GST Exempt Trust and the 2004 David A. Hodges, Sr. Irrevocable GST Non-Exempt Trust (collectively, the 2004 Trusts). In 2017, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld a circuit court decision that set aside “decantings” from the 2004 Trusts and removed the Former Co-Trustees. The Court specifically left “for another day the issue of whether [the Former Co- Trustees] are entitled to indemnification for the fees and expenses incurred in this proceeding” because, at that time, the trial court had not ruled upon the issue. In this appeal, the Former Co-Trustees challenged the determination, recommended by a Judicial Referee and approved by the Circuit Court, that, except for attorney’s fees and costs incurred for certain administrative tasks: (1) they were not entitled to be reimbursed from the 2004 Trusts for the post-trial fees and costs they personally incurred to defend the decantings; and (2) they had to reimburse the 2004 Trusts for the fees and costs the trusts incurred to defend the decantings at trial. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hodges v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court that Dan Cook's last will and testament be confirmed and admitted to probate and that Kim Smith be appointed personal representative of the estate, holding that, although the district court erred in applying an incorrect burden of proof to determine the validity of the will, the error was harmless.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err in concluding that Smith did not exceed her general power of attorney granted her by Cook when she transferred Cook's money; (2) the district court did not err in finding that Cook had the requisite capacity to enter into a valid marriage with Smith shortly before his death; and (3) while the court erred in applying an incorrect burden of proof in determining the validity of Cook's will, the error was harmless because the court's findings of fact were sufficient under the correct burden of proof to support the conclusion that Cook was competent to create and amend a valid will. View "In re Estate of Cook" on Justia Law