Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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Chadwick R. Traylor challenged the testamentary trust of his father, Donald R. Traylor, alleging undue influence by the defendants, who were beneficiaries under the trust. Traylor claimed that the defendants manipulated his father into amending the trust to their benefit. The district court, after a bench trial, denied Traylor’s claims and enforced the trust’s no-contest clause against him.The District Court of Natrona County initially set the case for a jury trial but later struck Traylor’s jury demand as untimely. Traylor argued that the demand was timely because not all defendants had answered, but the court disagreed, ruling that the time for serving the demand began when Traylor answered the defendants’ counterclaims. The court also denied Traylor’s subsequent motion for reconsideration and his request for a jury trial under W.R.C.P. 39(b), finding no extraordinary circumstances to justify such relief.The Wyoming Supreme Court reviewed the case and affirmed the district court’s decisions. The Supreme Court held that Traylor waived his right to a jury trial by failing to timely serve his demand. The court also found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s denial of Traylor’s Rule 39(b) request for a jury trial. Additionally, the Supreme Court ruled that the district court applied the correct burden of proof, requiring Traylor to prove undue influence by a preponderance of the evidence, not by clear and convincing evidence. The court found that Traylor failed to meet this burden.The Supreme Court also upheld the district court’s enforcement of the no-contest clause against Traylor, interpreting the trust’s language to include him as a beneficiary subject to the clause. Finally, the Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s award of costs to the defendants, noting that Traylor did not provide an adequate record for review. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment in all respects. View "Traylor v. Green" on Justia Law

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Kathleen and Bruce Smith filed a petition to confirm the validity of a 2016 amendment to a trust established by Ernest Myers. The amendment would grant the Smiths Ernest’s 54.2 percent interest in a property, adding to their existing 45.8 percent interest. Without the amendment, the trust would give Ernest’s interest to Emma Myers, his widow. Emma argued that the Smiths’ petition was barred by the statute of limitations under Code of Civil Procedure section 366.3, which requires claims arising from a promise or agreement with a decedent to be filed within one year of the decedent’s death.The Superior Court of Glenn County denied Emma’s motion for summary adjudication, concluding that section 366.3 did not apply to the Smiths’ petition, as it concerned the internal affairs of a trust rather than a promise relating to a distribution. After a bench trial, the court ruled in favor of the Smiths, validating the amendment and ordering Emma to transfer the property interest to them. Emma’s cross-petition to invalidate the amendment was denied.The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Third Appellate District, reviewed the case. The court affirmed the lower court’s decision, agreeing that section 366.3 did not apply to the Smiths’ petition. The court held that the statute of limitations in section 366.3 pertains to claims based on promises or agreements to create testamentary documents, not to claims based on the documents themselves. Consequently, the trial court’s judgment in favor of the Smiths was upheld, and Emma’s appeal was dismissed. View "Smith v. Myers" on Justia Law

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Carlton Loeber, the trustor of an irrevocable trust owning two undeveloped properties within the Lakeside Joint School District, sought to place an initiative on the ballot to exempt taxpayers over 65 from any district parcel tax on undeveloped parcels. The district declined to call the election, citing cost concerns and legal objections. Loeber filed a petition for a writ of mandate to compel the district to place the initiative on the ballot. The trial court dismissed the petition, ruling that Loeber lacked standing.The trial court found that Loeber did not have a direct and substantial interest in the initiative because he did not personally own property in the district and failed to show that the trust could qualify for the exemption. The court also rejected Loeber’s public interest standing argument, noting the lack of public engagement and the significant cost to the district. The court concluded that the public need was not weighty enough to warrant the application of the public interest exception.The California Court of Appeal, Sixth Appellate District, reviewed the case and determined that Loeber had standing under the public interest exception, given the significant public right at issue concerning the initiative power. However, the court concluded that the proposed initiative did not fall within the scope of Article XIII C, Section 3 of the California Constitution, which allows initiatives to reduce or repeal local taxes. The court held that the initiative, which sought to create a new exemption for certain taxpayers, did not constitute "reducing" a tax within the meaning of the constitutional provision. Consequently, the district was not obligated to call an election on the initiative. The judgment was modified to deny the writ petition and affirmed as modified. View "Loeber v. Lakeside Joint School District" on Justia Law

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This case involves a legal malpractice claim brought by Anne Fahey, Timothy Fife, and Richard Fife (Plaintiffs) against their former attorneys, Andrew Cook, Lukas Andrud, and Ohnstad Twichell, P.C. (Defendants). The claim stems from Defendants' representation of Plaintiffs in a previous case concerning the distribution of their mother's estate. The mother, Marianne Fife, owned a mineral interest in North Dakota and was a resident of Idaho when she died intestate. She had conveyed her mineral interest to her husband, Richard Fife, shortly before her death. Plaintiffs sued their father's estate, claiming their mother lacked capacity to execute the deed due to medication and undue influence from their father. The district court rescinded the deed but held that the mineral interest still passed to Richard Fife under North Dakota's intestate succession laws.The district court's decision was affirmed on appeal. Plaintiffs then initiated a malpractice action against Defendants, alleging negligence in the underlying litigation by failing to contest the validity of a quitclaim deed for their mother's interest in an Idaho home and failing to argue that their mother's estate had a cause of action against their father's estate. Plaintiffs claimed that if Defendants had taken these actions, the value of their mother's estate would have increased, and they would have received some of the minerals under intestate succession laws.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants, concluding that they did not breach their duty to Plaintiffs and that Plaintiffs did not suffer damages caused by the alleged breach of duty. The court reasoned that even if Plaintiffs had successfully taken the suggested actions, they still would not have received their mother's mineral interests.On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on their legal malpractice claims. They contended that the court erred in concluding that their mother's estate, for valuation and distribution purposes, did not include real or personal property outside of North Dakota. They also argued that Defendants were collaterally estopped from arguing that their mother's interest in the Idaho home and personal property would never be part of the estate.The Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the district court's judgment. The court concluded that the district court did not err in holding that collateral estoppel does not apply in this case. The court also held that the district court correctly concluded that the Idaho home would not have been part of the mother's North Dakota intestate estate because it was community property and would have passed to the father as a matter of law. Therefore, the court found that Defendants' alleged failure to challenge the Idaho quitclaim deed's validity and argue that the mother's estate had a cause of action against the father's estate did not proximately cause Plaintiffs any damages. View "Fahey v. Cook" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over the Estate of Donelson C. Glassie. The plaintiff, Marcia Sallum Glassie, was married to Donelson C. Glassie, and they divorced in 1993. According to their property-settlement agreement, the testator was to execute a will that would treat his obligations under the agreement as a claim against his estate and bequest to the plaintiff an amount equal to said obligations. A dispute arose over what the agreement required of the testator’s will. In 1997, a Family Court justice determined that the plaintiff was entitled to a bequest of a sum equal to the testator’s obligations. The testator died in 2011, and the plaintiff filed a claim for $2,000,000 against the testator’s estate a year later, which the defendant disallowed.The case was previously reviewed by the Superior Court, which awarded the plaintiff $2,000,000, less the proceeds of a life insurance policy that she received upon the testator’s death and attorneys’ fees. However, this judgment was vacated by the Supreme Court on multiple grounds, including that the disputed provision in the will was ambiguous and required factfinding and conclusions of law with respect to the testator’s intent.In the current review by the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, the plaintiff argued that the trial justice made numerous prejudicial evidentiary rulings that prevented her from presenting her case. After reviewing the record and considering the parties’ arguments, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The court found no error in the trial justice’s decisions to prevent the plaintiff from presenting evidence regarding a trust, to allow the defendant to withdraw certain admissions, to admit evidence of a life insurance policy, and to allow evidence of the defendant’s post-death conduct. The court also found that the plaintiff had not preserved her argument regarding the trial justice’s decision to prevent her from examining the defendant about his counterclaim. View "Glassie v. Doucette" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over the will of the late Donelson C. Glassie. The plaintiff, Marcia Sallum Glassie, is the testator’s former wife. She appealed from a Superior Court judgment in favor of the defendant, Paul Doucette, in his capacity as Executor of the Estate of Donelson C. Glassie. The Superior Court affirmed an order of the Newport Probate Court denying the plaintiff’s petition for leave to file a claim out of time against the estate. The denied claim would have alleged a breach of contract, based on the plaintiff’s contention that a key provision of the testator’s will violated the terms of the couple’s property-settlement agreement.The plaintiff and the testator were married in 1986, had three children, and were divorced in 1993. According to their property-settlement agreement (PSA), the testator was to execute a will that would not only treat his obligations under the PSA as “a claim against any assets in [his] [e]state” but also “specifically bequest to [plaintiff] an amount equal to said obligations.” A dispute soon unfolded over what the PSA required of the testator’s will.In 2017, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island vacated the Superior Court judgment on multiple grounds. Relevant to the present appeal, the court determined “that the disputed provision in the will is ambiguous” because it “does not clearly specify under what circumstances plaintiff is to receive the sum of $2,000,000 or the circumstances under which she is to receive such other amount necessary to satisfy all of [the testator’s] remaining obligations.” Because “a proper resolution of this matter require[d] factfinding and conclusions of law with respect to [the] testator’s intent,” the court remanded the case to the Superior Court.Back in Superior Court, the plaintiff sought to amend her complaint with a claim for breach of contract. The Superior Court denied plaintiff’s motion to amend her complaint, in part because she did not first submit the claim to the probate court, and also because the applicable statute of limitations had expired. The plaintiff thereafter filed a petition in the Newport Probate Court for leave to file a claim out of time and, after the court denied her petition, she appealed that denial to the Superior Court.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, concluding that the plaintiff’s failure to timely present her claim for breach of contract was not due to excusable neglect and, therefore, her claim must be denied. View "Glassie v. Doucette" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute over a family farm in Minnesota. Richard and Paulette Dunn entered into a contract for deed with their son, Rory, for the sale of their family farm. The contract stipulated that Rory could not sell, assign, or otherwise transfer his interest in the farm without the Dunns' written consent. However, Rory died two years later without a will, and his interest in the farm was transferred to his young son by intestate succession. Jeffrey Kuhn, the personal representative of Rory’s estate, intended to divide the property and sell a portion of the farm on the open market. The Dunns responded by cancelling the contract for deed, arguing that the intestate transfer of Rory’s interest to his son without their consent was a breach of the contract.The district court ruled in favor of the Dunns, stating that the intestate transfer of Rory’s interest in the farm violated the consent-to-transfer provision and materially breached the contract for deed. However, the court of appeals reversed this decision, concluding that the intestate transfer of Rory’s estate as a result of Rory’s inaction did not violate the consent-to-transfer provision.The Minnesota Supreme Court was asked to decide whether an intestate transfer of an interest in a family farm breaches a consent-to-transfer provision in a contract for deed. The court held that the intestate transfer of Rory’s interest in the farm violated the consent-to-transfer provision and that this violation was a material breach of the contract for deed. Therefore, the court reversed the decision of the court of appeals. View "Kuhn vs. Dunn" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute over the interpretation of a trust. Jerry and Mary Trotter established the Trotter Family Revocable Trust in 2011, naming themselves as both trustees and trustors. Upon Jerry's death in 2012, Mary became the sole trustee. The trust provided that upon the death of the surviving spouse, certain stock would be distributed to their son, Timothy, and the rest of the estate would be divided equally among several children, including Jerry's daughter from a previous marriage, Wendy Trotter Van Dyck. In 2020, Mary expressed her intention to exclude Van Dyck from the trust beneficiaries via email and a questionnaire. However, she passed away before a formal amendment to the trust could be made.The probate court was asked to determine whether Mary's emails and the questionnaire constituted a valid amendment to the trust. The court found that Mary's writings were insufficient to constitute an amendment, as they were not signed as required by the trust and did not adequately express an intent to amend the trust. The court ordered that the trust be distributed to its original beneficiaries, including Van Dyck. Timothy appealed this decision.The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One State of California, affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court agreed that Mary's writings did not meet the requirements for a valid amendment to the trust. The court found that the writings were not signed as required by the trust, and the electronic signature provision of the Uniform Electronics Transaction Act (UETA) did not apply because a unilateral trust amendment does not constitute a "transaction" within the meaning of the statute. Furthermore, the court found that Mary's writings did not adequately express an intent to amend the trust by the writings themselves. View "Trotter v. Van Dyck" on Justia Law

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The case involves Leatrice Tanner-Brown, a descendant of people enslaved by the Cherokee Tribe and emancipated at the end of the Civil War. Her grandfather, George Curls, received land allotments as a minor. Tanner-Brown and the Harvest Institute Freedman Federation, LLC (HIFF) brought suit seeking various remedies related to the allotments, including an accounting from the Secretary of the Interior arising from the alleged creation of a trust relationship between the federal government and Indian beneficiaries.The district court dismissed the case for lack of standing, finding that Tanner-Brown failed to establish that she was injured by not receiving an accounting on the ground that there was no trust relationship between Curls and the federal government and that HIFF failed to satisfy the requirements for associational standing.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court found that although HIFF cannot sustain standing, Tanner-Brown has alleged a concrete injury-in-fact sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The court also found that the case raises factual questions that cannot be resolved at this juncture and remanded for the district court to consider the merits of Tanner-Brown’s allegations and the relevant record documents in the first instance. View "Tanner-Brown v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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In April 2019, Charlotte Blair executed a power of attorney (POA) appointing her daughter, Annette Wiley, as her attorney in fact. The POA was not signed by two disinterested witnesses as required by Kentucky law at the time. In December 2019, Wiley signed admission documents and an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) agreement on Blair's behalf for Blair's admission to a long-term care facility. Blair passed away in June 2020. In July 2020, the Kentucky legislature amended the law to remove the two-witness requirement for POAs.Wiley and her sister, Melanie Persson, sued the care facility, Masonic Homes of Kentucky, Inc., for various claims. Masonic Homes argued that some of these claims were subject to the ADR agreement and moved to compel arbitration. The Jefferson Circuit Court ruled that the POA was invalid because it did not meet the requirements of the law at the time of its execution and that the 2020 amendment was not retroactive. Therefore, the ADR agreement was unenforceable. Masonic Homes appealed this decision.The Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court's decision, ruling that the POA was valid because the 2020 amendment to the law was retroactive. Wiley sought review from the Supreme Court of Kentucky.The Supreme Court of Kentucky reversed the Court of Appeals' decision. The court held that the 2020 amendment to the law was not retroactive. Therefore, the POA was invalid at the time of its execution and the ADR agreement was unenforceable. The court remanded the case to the Jefferson Circuit Court for further proceedings. View "Wiley v. Masonic Homes of Kentucky, Inc." on Justia Law