Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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Charles Edward Rainwater, Jean Rainwater Loggins, The Lem Harris Rainwater Family Trust, and the Rainwater Marital Trust appealed a circuit court's final judgment enforcing a settlement agreement in the litigation involving four siblings and the family trusts. They challenged three aspects of the judgment: its enforcement of the settlement agreement, its denial of a motion to dissolve a prior order enforcing the settlement agreement, and its denial of a motion to quash a garnishment. Because the court failed to hold an evidentiary hearing on enforcement of the settlement agreement, because the prior enforcement order was improper, and because any award on which the garnishment could have been based was being reversed, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the judgment as to all three aspects. View "The Lem Harris Rainwater Family Trust, et al. v. Rainwater" on Justia Law

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Christopher Luck, as legal guardian and conservator for Ethel Luck, appealed a district court’s dismissal of Ethel’s negligence claim against Sarah Rohel for injuries Ethel sustained in a car accident. On March 13, 2019, the last day before the applicable statute of limitations ran, Amy Clemmons, Ethel’s daughter, signed and filed a pro se Complaint against Rohel on Ethel’s behalf, alleging a single count of negligence. Ethel did not sign the Complaint. The same day, Ethel signed a durable power of attorney designating Clemmons as her attorney-in-fact. Clemmons was a licensed Washington attorney, who, at the time the Complaint was filed, was not licensed to practice law in Idaho. A little over a month later, Clemmons filed a pro se Amended Complaint, which continued to identify the same plaintiff, “AMY CLEMMONS, as Guardian for ETHEL LUCK.” Both Ethel and Clemmons signed the Amended Complaint. Rohel moved to strike the first complaint, arguing Clemmons, who was not licensed to practice law in Idaho, signed the Complaint. Rohel also moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing Clemmons had not been appointed as Ethel’s guardian, was not admitted to the Idaho State Bar and therefore, lacked authority to file the Complaint on Ethel’s behalf. Clemmons subsequently retained an attorney, who filed a notice of appearance on April 23, 2019. The notice of appearance failed to specify whether counsel appeared on behalf of Clemmons, Ethel or both. Counsel argued that Idaho law allowed Clemmons to act as a general guardian and as such, Clemmons was the real party in interest and could initiate a lawsuit pro se, on behalf of Ethel. Additionally, counsel argued that any deficiencies in the Complaint had been cured pursuant to Rule 11 because Ethel signed the Amended Complaint. The district court granted both of Rohel's motions, and Clemmons appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court vacated the district court's judgment, finding it erred in applying the rule of nullity to strike Clemmons' Complaint. The Supreme Court determined the caselaw the trial court used as grounds for its judgment was no longer applicable in light of subsequent amendments to Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 11. In light of this holding, the Supreme Court remanded this matter to allow the district court to exercise its discretion and determine whether to allow Plaintiff Luck to cure the improper signature. View "Luck v. Rohel" on Justia Law

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Respondent Neumiller & Beardslee filed a renewal request for a 2008 judgment and identified Estate Administrator Audrey Douglas as the judgment debtor without stating she was named in her role as the administrator of an estate as set forth in the original judgment. When it discovered this, respondent filed a motion to correct the error. The trial court granted that motion and corrected the judgment nunc pro tunc. Appellant Joanna Douglas-Dorsey, who was a beneficiary of the estate argued on appeal the trial court erred in correcting that error because it was not a clerical error. Remembering the “law respects form less than substance” the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Estate of Douglas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the circuit court granting summary judgment in this action brought by the personal representative of the Estate of Susan Markve against Kenneth Markve (Ken) alleging undue influence, conversion, statutory fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and common law fraud, holding that genuine issues of material fact remained.The Estate brought this action alleging that Susan lacked capacity to execute a quitclaim deed to a certain house and the power of attorney naming Ken as her agent. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Ken, concluding that no factual basis supported the Estate's claims. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that questions of fact should have precluded summary judgment on several of the Estate's claims. View "Johnson v. Markve" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals denying a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to dismiss the underlying circuit court action filed by three sisters (Sisters), holding that the circuit court correctly denied the writ.The Sisters, daughters of Elbert Goff Sr., brought the underlying complaint against, among others, Appellant, individually and in her capacity as the personal representative of Elbert's Estate, alleging that Appellant breached her fiduciary duties to Elbert before he died through self-dealing. The circuit court denied Appellant's ensuing motion to dismiss. Appellant petitioned the court of appeals for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to dismiss the Sisters' complaint, but the court of appeals denied the request. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court had subject-matter jurisdiction in this case; and (2) an appellate remedy was available, and great injustice and irreparable injury will not be suffered by Appellant. View "Goff v. Honorable Edwards" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals for failing as a reviewing court to give proper deference to the trial court's decision to deny Appellees leave to amend a pleading and held that the court erred when it found that the district court lacked jurisdiction to probate the will at issue in this action.Plaintiff filed this action challenging the validity of the decedent's will and asserting claims of undue influence and breach of fiduciary duty by Defendants and requesting a declaration that the will was invalid. After Plaintiff settled his claims with some of the defendants, defendant Suzanne McGaha filed a motion for leave to amend her answer and to assert cross-claims and certain objections. The district court overruled the motion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court of appeals erred in concluding that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the probate matter because of an alleged defect with verification of the probate petition; and (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion by denying Suzanne's motion for leave to amend her answer to assert cross-claims. View "McGaha v. McGaha" on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery held that the petition in this case alleging that Respondent, a former teacher, befriended and manipulated a woman, now deceased, through coercion into receiving millions of dollars of the woman's inheritances should be dismissed in full, with prejudice.Petitioner filed a verified petition to, among other things, invalidate will and trust agreements, for breach of a fiduciary duty, and demand for accounting. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss. The Court of Chancery granted the motion, holding (1) most of Petitioner's claims were either expressly time barred or sought a collateral attack on the incontestable final wishes of the decedent and that there was no viable basis for tolling the applicable limitations; and (2) Petitioner did not have standing to assert her remaining claims. View "Rambo v. Fischer" on Justia Law

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In this dispute among four siblings over the ownership of 200 acres of farmland the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the order of the district court that the farmland be distributed to Neal Johnson and Thomas Johnson, holding that the court of appeals failed to apply well-settled common law.This dispute stemmed from the last will and testament of the aunt of the four siblings in this case - Neal, Thomas, Sylvia Perron, and Lee Johnson. The aunt, Hazel Bach, devised the farmland to Neal and Thomas based on certain conditions that were resolved in an agreement between the parties. Although Lee, acting as co-personal representative, refused to honor the agreement, the district court ordered that the farmland be distributed to Neal and Thomas. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Neal and Thomas were entitled to the 200 acres under Bach's will. View "In re Estate of Bach" on Justia Law

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Alexis Carroll Hartline and Zachary Shawn Hartline sought an interim allowance for their maintenance during the administration of the succession of Raymond John Brandt (“Decedent”). It was undisputed that the Hartlines were Decedent’s forced heirs by adoption (hereinafter, the “Forced Heirs”) and that Decedent entered into a last will and testament placing their legitime in trust. It was further undisputed that Decedent designated the Forced Heirs as principal beneficiaries of the relevant trusts and designated his surviving spouse, Jessica Fussell Brandt (the “Surviving Spouse”), as income beneficiary, thus granting her the sole right to any and all net income generated by the estate property held in trust for the duration of her life. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted the Forced Heirs’ writ to review whether they were entitled to receive the requested allowance as an advance on amounts they were “eventually due,” pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 3321. The Supreme Court found the Forced Heirs could not receive an interim allowance during the administration of Decedent’s succession because they were not due, upon the termination of the administration, cash and/or property from which cash might be made available. The Court thus affirmed the court of appeal and remanded the matter to the district court for further proceedings. View "Succession of Raymond John Brandt" on Justia Law

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In October 1998, Andrea and Brad Hall, together with Linda and Frank Exler, purchased real property in Roberts, Idaho. The Halls owned a two-thirds interest in the property and the Exlers owned one-third. In September 2005, Linda deeded all of her interest in the property to Frank. Frank died intestate in March 2006. Travis Exler, Frank’s son and sole heir, was appointed as the personal representative of Frank’s estate (“the Estate”). The parties dispute their relationship in the years between Frank's death and the filing of the underlying lawsuit. Brad testified he received notice from the County rearding unpaid taxes on the property. Travis said he was unable to pay the Estate's portion of the overdue taxes. Brad testified the parties reached an agreement by which Travis would deed the property to the Halls if they paid the outstanding tax balance. Within weeks of their conversation, Brad contacted a law firm to prepare a quitclaim deed. In contrast, Travis stated he would transfer the Estate’s interest in the property if the Halls reimbursed his costs associated with cleaning up the property. Travis testified that in 2009 the parties also agreed the Halls would take care of cleanup costs and taxes. Travis stated that he did not transfer ownership of the property to the Halls and was never presented with a quitclaim or personal representative’s deed. It was undisputed that the Halls had sole control, use, and operation of the property since 2009. The Halls oversaw the administration of the lease and maintenance of the property. Travis did not list any profit or loss from the property on his personal taxes. In addition, the Halls paid the overdue taxes on the property, and made all tax payments on the property since 2009. The Halls and Travis did not communicate between 2009 and 2019. In June 2010, Travis voluntarily filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Travis did not list the property on his bankruptcy petition. The Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustee moved to dismiss based on Travis’s failure to list an interest in the property, rental income, and the transfer of an apartment building and 150 cattle. The bankruptcy court dismissed Travis’s petition. After Travis refused the Halls’ request to reopen probate of the Estate, the Halls filed a complaint to quiet title to the property. The district court issued a memorandum decision and order, quieting title to the disputed property in the Halls based on the lost deed doctrine. Travis appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order. View "Hall v. Exler" on Justia Law