Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

by
This appeal arose from judgments entered after the trial court sustained demurrers without leave to amend to two probate petitions filed by the adult children of actor Hugh O'Brian. The adult children each claim a right to the decedent's assets under Probate Code section 21622 as children he omitted from his trust solely because he was unaware of their births. In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not err in considering the trust's disinheritance provisions to assess whether plaintiffs could state facts showing they were entitled to relief under section 21622. The court also held that the trial court correctly found that, to obtain a distribution of the trust assets contrary to its express terms under section 21622, plaintiffs must plead and prove facts demonstrating "the sole reason" O'Brian did not provide for them in his trust was his unawareness of their births. View "Rallo v. O'Brian" on Justia Law

by
In the summer of 2014, Mark and Jennifer Porcello sought to purchase property In Hayden Lake, Idaho. After making various pre-payments, the amount the couple was still short on a downpayment. Mark and Jennifer could not qualify for a conventional loan themselves. They hoped another property in Woodinville, Washington, owned by Mark’s parents, in which Mark and Jennifer claimed an interest, could be sold to assist in the purchase of the Hayden Lake property. In an effort to help Mark and Jennifer purchase the property, Mark’s parents, Annie and Tony Porcello, obtained financing through a non-conventional lender. "In the end, the transaction became quite complicated." Annie and Tony’s lawyer drafted a promissory note for Mark and Jennifer to sign which equaled the amount Annie and Tony borrowed. In turn, Mark signed a promissory note and deed of trust for the Hayden Lake house, in the same amount and with the same repayment terms as the loan undertaken by his parents. In mid-2016, Annie and Tony sought non-judicial foreclosure on the Hayden Lake property, claiming that the entire balance of the note was due and owing. By this time Mark and Jennifer had divorced; Jennifer still occupied the Hayden Lake home. In response to the foreclosure proceeding, Jennifer filed suit against her former in-laws seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction, arguing that any obligation under the note had been satisfied in full when the Woodinville property sold, notwithstanding the language of the note encumbering the Hayden Lake property. Annie and Tony filed a counter-claim against Jennifer and a third-party complaint against Mark. A district court granted Jennifer’s request for a declaratory judgment. However, by this time, Annie and Tony had died and their respective estates were substituted as parties. The district court denied the estates’ request for judicial foreclosure, and dismissed their third-party claims against Mark. The district court held that the Note and Deed of Trust were latently ambiguous because the amount of the Note was more than twice the amount Mark and Jennifer needed in order to purchase the Hayden Lake property. Because the district court concluded the note and deed of trust were ambiguous, it considered parol evidence to interpret them. Ultimately, the district court found the Note and Deed of Trust conveyed the Hayden Lake property to Jennifer and Mark “free and clear” upon the sale of the Woodinville property. Annie’s and Tony’s estates timely appealed. Finding that the district court erred in finding a latent ambiguity in the Note and Deed of Trust, and that the district court's interpretation of the Note and Deed of Trust was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Porcello v. Estates of Porcello" on Justia Law

by
In this county court probate case, the Supreme Court affirmed as modified the judgment of the probate court determining that a son must reimburse his mother's estate $190,550, holding that, except as to the son's statute of limitations defense, there was no merit to the son's appeal or the estate's cross-appeal. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the county court correctly exercised jurisdiction over this proceeding; (2) there was no merit to the estate's cross-appeal; (3) except as to the defense of the statute of limitations, the son's appeal lacked merit; and (4) upon this Court's de novo review, the statute of limitations barred the estate's recovery for transactions that occurred before February 1, 2012. View "In re Estate of Adelung" on Justia Law

by
In 1996, Jack K. Davis (“Jack Sr.”) and Jeanne H. Davis created the Davis Family Trust (“Trust”), of which they were the grantors, trustees, and primary beneficiaries. The Trust was revocable until either Jack Sr. or Jeanne died, at which time it would become irrevocable. Upon the death of the surviving grantor, the Trust would terminate and the property would be divided equally among Jack Sr. and Jeanne’s three children: John (Jack) Davis (“Jack”), Greg Davis, and Drinda Ann Bell. The Trust became irrevocable in 2003 when Jack Sr. died. Nearly thirteen years later, Greg filed a complaint against his mother Jeanne, and his siblings Jack and Drinda, demanding: (1) an accounting and removal of trustees; (2) an order enjoining the expenditure of any funds; and (3) the appointment of a receiver. The magistrate court denied Greg’s motion to compel an accounting, finding that Greg and his siblings were “contingent residual beneficiaries” who did not have any rights relative to the Trust until Jeanne’s death. On intermediate appeal, the district court reversed, holding the magistrate court failed to give due consideration to the distinction between revocable and irrevocable trusts. The district court held Greg’s rights vested at the time the Trust became irrevocable when Jack Sr. died in 2003. The district court remanded the case for further proceedings. Jack appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court, but finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Davis v. Davis" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court holding that property owned by Sharon Orr-Hanson and her husband, Bennet Hanson, was owned as tenants in common and ordering partition of the property after Sharon's death, holding that the circuit court properly found that the property was owned as tenants in common. The personal representatives of Sharon's estate brought this action to have the property sold and the proceeds split evenly. The circuit court determined that a corrective deed terminated what was previously a joint tenancy and created a tenancy in common. On appeal, Bennet argued that the property was held as joint tenants and should go to him alone as the surviving joint tenant. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the circuit court did not err in concluding that the corrective deed severed Bennet's and Sharon's joint tenancy and created a tenancy in common; and (2) Bennet's remaining allegations of error were unavailing. View "Moeckly v. Hanson" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court dismissed this appeal from the district court's grant of summary judgment to Appellee, holding that because the district court's order granting summary judgment did not resolve all outstanding issues before it, it was not an appealable order under Rule 1.05 of the Wyoming Rules of Appellate Procedure (W.R.A.P.). Michael G. McDill, as trustee of the Phyllis V. McDill Revocable Trust, filed a petition for instructions seeking confirmation that the Trust's no contest clause prohibited Thomas P. McDill, Jr. from taking under the Trust. The district court granted Michael's motion for summary judgment and his petition for instructions. Thomas appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding (1) the district court's order granting Michael's summary judgment motion was not an appealable order under W.R.A.P. 1.05, and therefore, this Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal; and (2) Michael was entitled to attorney fees and costs under W.R.A.P. 1.03 and 10.05. View "McDill v. McDill" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court vacated the order of the county court requiring Webster County to pay fees and expenses to a court-appointed successor personal representative, holding that the court lacked the authority to order the County to pay the successor personal representative fees. In its order, the court found that the court-appointed successor personal representative had served for two and one-half years, that his fees were fair and reasonable, that the estate was insolvent, and that the amount owed by the heirs was likely uncollectible. The court then ordered that Webster County pay the amount of $6,455 to the personal representative. The Supreme Court vacated the order, holding that the court lacked the statutory authority to order the County pay the successor personal representative's fees. View "In re Estate of Hutton" on Justia Law

by
The issue this matter presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review involved the alleged forfeiture of a parent’s share in his child’s estate where his child died without a will. Specifically, the question was whether an adult decedent, who became disabled after reaching the age of majority, was a dependent child for purposes of the forfeiture statute. Generally, where an intestate decedent dies without a spouse or issue but with living parents, his or her parents were entitled to inherit the individual’s estate as tenants by the entirety. Notably, the Code did not define the phrase “dependent child.” Decedent was 18 years old when he sustained gunshot wounds, rendering him a paraplegic. At age 37, he died intestate without a spouse or issue, and Appellant (“Mother”) was granted letters of administration. Decedent’s estate subsequently recovered a $90,000 wrongful-death award, which became the estate’s sole asset. Mother filed a petition for forfeiture of estate, asserting that Appellee (“Father”) forfeited his share of the estate by allegedly failing to perform his duty of support. After Father’s motion for judgment on the pleadings was denied, the orphans' court held a hearing. The Supreme Court held that the concepts of a dependent child and the parental duty of care, as they were referenced in Section 2106(b) of the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code, contemplated a legally-imposed parental duty stemming from a state of dependency arising under the established law of the Commonwealth. The Court also agreed with the orphans’ court that in this matter, Mother failed to demonstrate Decedent was a dependent child – and concomitantly, that Father had a duty of care – as required to obtain relief under that provision. View "In Re: Estate of Small" on Justia Law

by
In a matter of first impression, a Pennsylvania superior court held that anti-alienation provisions governing municipal pensions found in various statutes protected assets from attachment and other legal process (including a contract claim) only while those assets remained in the possession of the pension fund administrator. Specifically, the court determined that a spouse’s promise to waive her right to her husband’s pension benefits, including agreeing to transfer such benefits after receiving them from the administrator, was legally enforceable. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that because the superior court’s interpretation was consistent with the plain language of the statutes, the context in which the provisions appear, and Pennsylvania precedent interpreting similar statutory language, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the superior court. View "Estate of M&J Benyo v. Breidenbach" on Justia Law

by
Michael D. Ferguson was initially excluded as a beneficiary from his parents’ marital trust (the Original Trust). Years later, Michael's mother, Sybil Ferguson, essentially reversed Michael's exclusion by exercising a power of appointment in her will, designating Michael Ferguson as a beneficiary of the Survivor’s Trust - a sub-trust of the Original Trust. When Sybil died, Michael petitioned the magistrate court for financial records, including records from the Original Trust, to determine whether he would receive his full share of the Survivor’s Trust. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which the magistrate court denied in part and granted in part. Both parties appealed to the district court. The district court affirmed the magistrate court’s decision in part and reversed in part. The district court held that the magistrate court erred in concluding that Michael did not become a beneficiary of the Survivor’s Trust until his mother’s death, concluding that he became a beneficiary the moment his mother named him as a beneficiary more than one year before her death. Further, the district court held that the magistrate court erred in refusing to apply the Original Trust’s no-contest provision, removing Michael as a beneficiary. The issues this case presented for the Idaho Supreme Court's review centered on: the fiduciary duties of a trustee who had discretion to spend the trust’s principal, the scope of records available to a trust beneficiary under Idaho Code section 15-7-303, and the enforceability of a trust instrument’s no-contest provision. The Supreme Court concluded the district court erred: (1) in holding Sybil Ferguson did not owe Michael a fiduciary duty under the Trust Agreement; (2) in failing to address whether Michael was entitled to Original Trust allocation records pursuant to Idaho Code section 15-7-303; (3) in enforcing the forfeiture provision before addressing whether the Successor Trustees breached their fiduciary duties in administering the Survivor’s Trust; and (4) in failing to address the magistrate court's ruling denying Michael's motion to compel discovery. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ferguson v. Ferguson" on Justia Law