Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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Ralph Placencia died, leaving behind, among other things, a will, a trust, and a joint bank account with an express right of survivorship in favor of one of his daughters, appellant Lisa Strazicich. Ralph left clear statements in his will that he did not want Lisa to have the right of survivorship; he wanted the proceeds of the account to go to his trust so it could benefit all three of his daughters. After his death, Lisa refused to relinquish the funds. Lisa and respondent Stephanie Placencia, another of Ralph’s daughters, both of whom were cotrustees of Ralph’s trust, filed petitions in the probate court to determine the parties’ respective rights. Once established, the terms of a multi-party account” could only be changed by filing the applicable paperwork with the financial institution. The Court of Appeal surmised Ralph clearly expressed the intent to negate survivorship, but the form of the account included a right of survivorship, and Ralph did not use one of the methods listed in Probate Code section 5303 to change the terms of the account. The Court of Appeal recognized the explicit distinction drawn in the the California Multiple-Party Accounts Law (CAMPAL) between the actual ownership of the beneficial interests in the account, and the express terms of the account: the distinction allowed the court to honor the clear intent of the person who established the account while at the same time offer protection to the financial institution which held the account. The Court held that the financial institution was correct to pay the funds to Lisa pursuant to the express terms of the account, but the beneficial owner of the funds was Ralph’s estate. Furthermore, the Court concluded the probate court properly relied on Ralph’s will as evidence of his intent, notwithstanding section 5302(e), which provided that a right of survivorship “cannot be changed by will. ... The court may still look to the will as an expression of intent to negate survivorship." Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal reversed on two issues: (1) the funds in the bank account belonged to Ralph’s estate, which had not been subject to a probate proceeding - the probate court erred in awarding those funds directly to the trust in the absence of a proceeding; and (2) in light of that reversal, the matter was remanded for a reassessment of Stephanie’s attorney fees. View "Placencia v. Strazicich" on Justia Law

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In this dispute over certain real properties the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court that Beth Clark had exclusive ownership of the properties, holding that the superior court correctly concluded that Beth was entitled to summary judgment. Sean Clark brought this action seeking a declaratory judgment that he and Jason Clark were each vested with a one-eighth share of the properties as tenants in common with Beth. The superior court granted summary judgment to Beth, ruling that Beth acquired her brother Kevin Clark's undivided half interest through a joint tenancy right of survivorship. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the superior court did not err in its judgment. View "Clark v. Clark" on Justia Law

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Defendant Beulah Jean James Moore ("Beulah") appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of plaintiff Billy Edward Moore ("Billy"), individually and as executor of the estate of his brother and Beulah's husband, Jimmy Lee Moore ("Jimmy"), in an action filed by Billy seeking the enforcement of a prenuptial agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded summary judgment was appropriate. Beulah argued that language in the prenup discussing "spousal consents or waivers" granted her the proceeds of Jimmy's 401(k) plan and the pension plan unless a spousal waiver was executed . However, the Court found agreement made clear that Jimmy and Beulah agreed that the separate property each brought into the marriage--including the 401(k) plan and the pension plan--would remain separate. Jimmy and Beulah further agreed that neither of them would "claim, demand, assert any right to, take or receive any part of the property of the other as described on Schedules 1 and 2," which included the 401(k) plan and the pension plan. The second clause of section 4.4 allowed the owner of "an IRA or other plan account" to "direct" the "distribution of benefits" to one through a "beneficiary designation." Under this clause, Jimmy was permitted to name Billy as the designated beneficiary of the 401(k) plan and the pension plan, which he had done before he married Beulah, who had, in turn, renounced her claim to the plans. "Nothing in section 4.4 suggests that the failure to execute a spousal consent or waiver changes the parties' clear intent throughout the entire prenuptial agreement to renounce claims to the other's property; instead, the purpose of the requirement is to ensure that the parties' desires to retain control over the distribution of their accounts through a beneficiary designation is accomplished." Under those circumstances, Beulah breached the prenuptial agreement by retaining the benefits from the 401(k) plan and the pension plan. Thus, the trial court properly entered a summary judgment in favor of Billy. View "Moore v. Estate of Moore" on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether a requested change of beneficiary designation and plan option for benefits payable under the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) was effective upon mailing or upon receipt by SERS, where SERS did not receive the required change documentation until after the SERS member’s death. The Court held the change was not effective until receipt by SERS, the common law mailbox rule did not apply, and the Commonwealth Court erred in holding to the contrary. View "Estate of L. Wilson v. State Employees' Retirement Bd." on Justia Law

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Bryan was arrested for resisting arrest after deputies responded to a woman’s call that he had chased her. The court determined that Bryan was not competent to stand trial. He was taken to Napa State Hospital. After treating Bryan for two years, the hospital reported that it was unlikely he would soon regain competency. The public guardian filed a conservatorship petition supported by the report of a clinical psychologist who evaluated Bryan and concluded that he was gravely disabled by schizophrenia. Bryan’s public defender requested a trial. The court suggested scheduling the trial for January 28, 2019. Bryan’s attorney agreed. The parties stipulated that Bryan would appear by videoconference because of health issues. Trial began on January 28; county counsel called Bryan as a witness with no objection from Bryan’s attorney. The clinical psychologist whose report was submitted with the petition testified, as did Bryan’s temporary conservator. The court concluded that the public guardian had established beyond a reasonable doubt that Bryan was gravely disabled and was currently unable to provide for food, clothing, or shelter; appointed the public guardian as the conservator for one year; and imposed legal disabilities on him under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the commitment term must be shortened because the trial court unlawfully continued the starting date of his trial and that Bryan had an equal protection right to refuse to testify at his trial. View "Conservatorship of Bryan S." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit certified to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) an unresolved question under both state common law and state statutes concerning whether a judgment creditor of the settlor's estate may reach and apply assets in an irrevocable spendthrift trust after the death of the self-settlor of the trust, concluding that this case posed questions better answered by the SJC. Plaintiff brought this action against a Massachusetts spendthrift trust created by his parents' murderer, Donald Belanger, to enforce an Arizona wrongful death judgment against Belanger's estate. The district court entered judgment for Plaintiff, holding (1) Plaintiff had satisfied the elements for a reach and apply action required by Massachusetts law, and (2) under Massachusetts law, a self-settled trust cannot be used to shield one's assets from creditors even where the trust has a spendthrift provision and the trustee has made no distributions to the settlor prior to his death. At issue on appeal was whether the district court erred in holding that Plaintiff was entitled under Massachusetts law to reach and apply the irrevocable trust assets to satisfy the wrongful death judgment. Because Massachusetts law does not clearly answer the question upon which the disposition of this case depends the First Circuit certified the question to the SJC. View "De Prins v. Michaeles" on Justia Law

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Winget created the Trust, retaining the right to revoke the Trust at any time and to receive income generated by the trust property during his lifetime. He also served as the trustee with broad powers. Venture (a company owned by Winget) sought a loan from Chase. Winget guaranteed the loan both in his individual capacity and as a representative of the Trust. Venture defaulted on the loan, Chase sued. During one of six previous appeals, the Sixth Circuit held that the guarantee agreement limited Winget’s personal liability to $50 million but did not limit the Trust’s liability. Winget paid Chase $50 million; the Trust has not satisfied its obligation and now owes $750 million. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that Chase could recover that money from the Trust property. Under Michigan law trusts can enter into contracts and satisfy their contractual obligations through the trust property. Creditors can sue to recover from the trust property, just like with any other contract. Under Michigan law and the trust agreement, Winget had the power to enter into contracts on behalf of the Trust. The court rejected Winget’s argument that he “owns” the trust property because he can revoke the Trust and pays taxes on the trust property and that Chase cannot take the property to satisfy the Trust’s obligation. The trust property would not be used to satisfy Winget’s personal liability but would be used to satisfy the Trust’s liability. View "JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Winget" on Justia Law

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Decedent Sophia Krasinski died testate in 2006. The primary assets of her estate included three parcels of real estate. The Executor was one of the Decedent’s four children, who also included Eleanor Krasinski, James Krasinski, and Patricia Krasinski-Dunzik. Decedent’s will directed that each of her four children were equal beneficiaries of the residue of the estate. In 2010, the Executor filed a petition to permit the private sale of real estate to heirs. The orphans’ court granted the Executor’s petition to permit the sale. Dunzik and her husband sued the estate based upon an alleged oral contract with the Decedent regarding the property. After a nonjury trial, the trial court ruled that there was no enforceable oral contract between Dunzik and Decedent and dismissed the case. This trial court order also lifted a stay on the orphans’ court’s prior order approving the private sale of the Decedent’s lands. Dunzik did not appeal the trial court’s rulings. The sale proceeded; the Executor, James and his wife, and Dunzik attended, at which time Dunzik stated that she would not be bidding because she believed that she already owned the properties. Dunzik again challenged the completed sales. This discretionary appeal presented the Pennsylvania Supreme Court with an opportunity to clarify the proper scope of Rule 342(a)(6) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure, which provided for an appeal as of right from an order of the Orphans’ Court Division that “determin[es] an interest in real or personal property.” The statute further provided that the failure of a party to immediately appeal an order appealable under, inter alia, Rule 342(a)(6), constitutes a waiver of all objections to the order. The Supreme Court concluded Dunzik waived all objections to the orphans’ court’s order approving the private sale. View "In Re: Estate of Krasinski" on Justia Law

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Sharron and Jennifer Jensen appealed district court orders: (1) admitting a copy of Jacquelynn Blikre’s will to formal probate; (2) ruling Blikre’s will was valid; and (3) denying a petition for formal probate of Blikre’s alleged holographic will. Blikre executed a will in 2005 leaving her estate, including real property and minerals, to her sister, Sandra Nordahl, and named Nordahl personal representative of the estate. Blikre’s other sister, Sharron, was excluded from the will. In April 2016, Blikre was hospitalized after suffering from several health issues. In May 2016, she was moved to a Bismarck nursing home and resided there until her death in September 2016. While she was hospitalized, Blikre appointed Sharron as Blikre’s attorney-in-fact for financial matters. Blikre had also appointed Sandra's husband, Jean Nordahl, as Blikre’s attorney-in-fact under a durable power of attorney in March 2016. After Blikre’s death, Sandra petitioned for formal probate of Blikre’s will, attaching a copy the petition because the original will was missing. Jensen objected to Nordahl’s petition, claiming Blikre’s will should have been considered revoked because the original was missing. The district court appointed Nordahl personal representative subject to a decision on whether the copy of Blikre’s will would be admitted to probate. Sandra died after her appointment as personal representative. Jean petitioned for appointment as successor personal representative. Sharron also petitioned for appointment. At an October 2017 hearing, the parties presented evidence on the existence of Blikre’s will and whether she intended to revoke it before her death. In February 2018, the district court entered an order finding sufficient evidence existed to rebut the presumption that Blikre intended to revoke her will. The court ordered formal probate of the copy of the will and appointed Jean as personal representative. In April 2018, Sharron appealed the district court’s order, and Jennifer petitioned for formal probate of a holographic will and to vacate the February 2018 order admitting the copy of Blikre’s will to probate. Jennifer's petition alleged Blikre wrote instructions in 2016 relating to her estate. Jensen claimed the handwritten documents were a holographic will that revoked the 2005 will and distributed Blikre’s estate to her sisters and nieces. In December 2018, Jennifer and Sharron moved for partial summary judgment. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court dismissed Jensen’s petition, finding Blikre’s handwritten documents did not express her testamentary intent to distribute her estate and did not revoke her 2005 will. The court also found Blikre’s 2005 will was valid because credible evidence showed the will was executed in front of two witnesses. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Estate of Blikre" on Justia Law

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Paul Herman appealed a judgment entered in favor of the trustees of a family trust [collectively the Trustees] following the district court’s granting of the Trust’s motion for summary judgment. Herman argued the district court erred by finding the 120 day period to challenge the actions of the Trustees expired before he initiated these proceedings without providing him an opportunity to conduct discovery. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the 120 day limitation period under N.D.C.C. 59-10.1-03(1) did not begin until receipt of the notice of the Trustees actions, reversed the judgment of the district court, and remanded with instructions to allow Herman additional time to conduct discovery pursuant to his request under N.D.R.Civ.P. 56(f). View "Herman v. Herman, et al." on Justia Law