Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

by
Milton Turner died on July 25, 2018. On September 20, 2018, Mildred Williamson petitioned for letters of administration of Turner's estate in the probate court. In her petition, Williamson asserted that Turner had died intestate and that Williamson was Turner's only surviving heir. In 2019, Williamson, individually and in her capacity as the personal representative of Turner's estate, entered into a contract agreeing to sell to Matthew Drinkard and Jefferson Dolbare ("the purchasers") real property belonging to the estate for $880,650. The real-estate sales contract specified that the closing of the sale was to occur on or before May 31, 2019. On February 7, 2019, Williamson, individually and in her capacity as personal representative of Turner's estate, executed a deed conveying other real property that was part of Turner's estate to Marcus Hester. On February 13, 2019, Callway Sargent, alleging to be an heir of Turner's, filed a claim of heirship in Turner's estate. Sargent also moved for injunctive relief in which he acknowledged the February 7, 2019, deed, but asserted that Williamson had agreed to sell and had conveyed real property belonging to Turner's estate without the approval of the probate court, and requested that the probate court enjoin "Williamson from engaging in any further administration of [Turner's] estate until so ordered by [the probate court]." Williamson petitioned to have the case removed fro probate to the circuit court. From February 28, 2019, to March 18, 2019, a number of individuals came forward, all claiming to be Turner's heirs. Williamson moved to have the circuit court approve the pending property sales. Williamson and the purchasers did not close on the sale of the property that was the subject of their real-estate sales contract by May 31, 2019, as required by the contract. Some of the purported heirs petitioned the circuit court to stay or vacate the order approving the purchasers contact until matters regarding the heirs was resolved. Drinkard and Dolbare filed a motion to intervene in the proceedings regarding the administration of Turner's estate, but the circuit court denied the motion. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's denial of the purchasers' motion to intervene in the administration of Turner's estate. View "Drinkard, et al. v. Perry, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court disqualifying Risie Howard as the attorney representing the estate of Mrs. George Howard in a case arising from Mrs. Howard's medical treatment, holding that the circuit court's ruling represented a manifest abuse of discretion.On appeal, Howard argued that the circuit court erroneously interpreted Rule 3.7 of the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct and misapplied the test promulgated in Weigel v. Farmers Insurance Co., 158 S.W.3d 147 (Ark. 2004), in granting Defendants' motion to disqualify her. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court did not faithfully apply Rule 3.7 and the precedent established by Weigel and its progeny in disqualifying Howard. View "Howard v. Baptist Health" on Justia Law

by
Cheryl Feickert appealed a district court’s judgment entered after a bench trial. Ashley Feickert was a minor when her father died intestate in 1988. Ashley inherited an undivided one-fourth interest in real property from her father. Her mother, Cheryl, became her conservator in 1990. Cheryl, as conservator, leased Ashley's interest in the land starting in April 1989, but failed to provide an accounting of the lease income until September 2020. In March 2021, Ashley filed suit against Cheryl alleging breach of fiduciary duties for failure to keep suitable records, self-dealing, and failure to distribute assets as Ashley's conservator. Cheryl filed an answer asserting the affirmative defenses of estoppel, waiver, laches, contributory negligence, unclean hands, and unjust enrichment. The answer included a prayer for relief requesting the court to dismiss the action, award reasonable fees and costs, and any other such relief the court deemed just and proper. Cheryl's answer did not include facts supporting her claimed defenses, nor did it specifically include a counterclaim for unjust enrichment or a request for a damages offset. The matter was tried to a district court and judgment entered in Ashley's favor. On appeal, Cheryl argued the district court erred by failing to consider her unjust enrichment claim and by denying her an offset to the damages awarded to Ashley. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Feickert v. Feickert" on Justia Law

by
This case concerns a $225,000 life insurance policy issued on the life of C.S. When C.S. died in 2018, his estate (“Estate”) made a claim for the policy proceeds. His former employer, Kansas City Chrome Shop (“KCCS”), together with KCCS’s president, Dora Clark-Wall, made a competing claim. After the district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the Estate, Clark-Wall brought equitable claims in her personal capacity. Following a bench trial, the district court found that Clark-Wall was entitled to an equitable portion of the proceeds totaling $55,253.28 and that the Estate was entitled to the remaining $169,746.72. KCCS and Clark-Wall appealed.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Clark-Wall’s continued payments and renewal of the policy were essentially a gamble on C.S’s life—a benefit she hoped to reap if he died before she did. The law does not view such conduct favorably. The court, therefore, failed to see how the principles of fairness and justice demand that Clark-Wall is awarded accumulated interest on her payments. Accordingly, the court found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s equitable award to Clark-Wall. View "The Estate of Charles D. Smith v. Kansas City Chrome Shop, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the circuit court granting Sally Johnson's request to supervise and reform a trust and denied Mindy Smith's petition seeking clarification from the court and requesting other relief, holding that the circuit court erred in denying certain attorney fees.After Fred Peterson died, his daughter Sally filed separate petitions seeking court supervision and reformation of one of the two trusts he created in his lifetime. Another daughter, Mindy opposed the reformation and requested other relief. After a trial, the circuit court granted Sally's petition to reform the trust at issue and denied all of Mindy's petitions and motions. Sally subsequently filed a motion for reimbursement of attorney fees and expenses, which the circuit court denied. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded the case, holding (1) the circuit court was authorized to award Sally attorney fees under S.D. Codified Laws 15-17-38; (2) the court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the litigation did not provide the trust with an economic benefit; and (3) attorney fees were authorized for Sally's efforts to vindicate her father's intent. View "In re Petersen Trusts" on Justia Law

by
Stephen Ankuda, Esq., as the administrator of the Estate of Miriam Thomas, appealed a court order granting former guardian Paul Thomas’s motion to dismiss a decision of the probate division. The probate division ordered Thomas to reimburse his mother’s estate for what it described as damages incurred during his tenure as her financial guardian. However, the Vermont Supreme Court found the civil division did not have subject-matter jurisdiction because the probate division’s order was not a final order. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the civil division’s order and remanded to the probate division for further proceedings. View "In re Estate of Miriam Thomas" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals dismissing Appellant's appeal from an order of the county court that ruled on Appellant's petition for trust administration, holding that the order from which Appellant attempted to appeal was not a final order.Appellant filed a petition for trust administration proceeding with regarding to a family trust. After the county court entered its order ruling on the petition Appellant appealed. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the county court's ruling was not a final order in the trust administration proceeding; and (2) therefore, this Court lacked jurisdiction to hear this appeal. View "In re Estate of Scaletta" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the probate court denying a petition to assess state inheritance tax under Neb. Rev. Stat. 77-2002(1)(b) on real property that Decedents had deeded to their daughter (Daughter) decades prior while continuing to exercise control over and paying taxes on the property until they died, holding that the property was subject to Nebraska inheritance tax under section 77-2002(1)(b).Daughter brought this petition to assess state inheritance taxes on the subject real property. The county court concluded that the property should not be included in the Decedents' estate for purposes of inheritance tax because it was not "intended to take effect in possession or enjoyment, after his or her death." The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the stipulated facts showed that Decedents intended to retain possession and enjoyment of the property until death; and (2) therefore, the property was subject to Nebraska inheritance tax under section 77-2002(1)(b). View "In re Estate of Lofgreen" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition preventing the Honorable Christopher McCarthy, Judge of the Circuit Court of Harrison County, from enforcing an order granting Plaintiffs' motion to compel, holding that the circuit court erred by failing to determine the applicability of the attorney-client privilege to the information sought by Plaintiffs.The order granting Plaintiffs' motion to compel required an attorney employed by Defendant to appear at a deposition and respond to questions that Defendant claimed were subject to the attorney-client privilege and/or the work product doctrine. The Supreme Court granted the requested writ of prohibition, holding that determining the applicability of the attorney-client privilege to the information sought by Plaintiffs during the deposition was a required first step in analyzing whether to grant Plaintiffs' motion to compel. View "State ex rel. Antero Resources Corp. v. Honorable McCarthy" on Justia Law

by
Attorney DeWayne Johnston, on behalf of the late David Knapp, appealed the dismissal entered after the district court denied a motion to substitute Knapp’s widow as plaintiff under N.D.R.Civ.P. 25. Attorney DeWayne Johnston, on behalf of the late David Knapp, appeals from a dismissal judgment entered after the district court denied a motion to substitute Knapp’s widow as plaintiff under N.D.R.Civ.P. 25. This litigation began after the Minnesota Department of Revenue issued a third-party levy on securities held by Edward Jones for Knapp. Knapp sued the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Revenue and Edward Jones in North Dakota seeking dissolution of the levy. Knapp subsequently commenced this lawsuit against Edward Jones requesting dissolution of the levy or a declaration that his securities were exempt from the levy. He also brought a conversion claim and requested damages. The district court ordered the case stayed pending arbitration under terms in Edward Jones account agreements. Knapp died during the stay. Edward Jones served Knapp’s counsel, Attorney Johnston, with a statement noting Knapp’s death. Attorney Johnston filed a motion on Knapp’s behalf requesting Knapp’s widow, Cabrini Knapp, be substituted as plaintiff under N.D.R.Civ.P. 25. The court held a hearing. After the hearing, the court denied the substitution motion and dismissed the case with prejudice. The court noted that ownership of the securities had transferred to Cabrini Knapp and her “rights are not extinguished by this order and there is no prejudice to her in denying the motion to substitute her as a party.” The North Dakota Supreme Court granted Edward Jones’ motion and dismissed the appeal, agreeing that Johnston could not appeal on behalf of a dead person. If Johnston was not authorized to file this appeal, his motion to substitute on appeal was moot. View "Knapp v. The Jones Financial Co., et al." on Justia Law