Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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This litigation involved a dispute over mineral interests located in Mountrail County, North Dakota, and other property owned by Vera Mitchell and her estate. Tarryl Joyce, as the estate's administrator, appealed a district court judgment granting Steven Joyce’s motion for dismissal of Tarryl's claims against him for actions he took while acting as Vera Mitchell’s attorney-in-fact. In 2006, Vera executed a durable power of attorney appointing her son, Steven Joyce, as attorney-in-fact. Vera executed a last will and testament the same day. In 2008, due to dementia and declining mental health, Steven moved his mother from an assisted living facility in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to a memory care facility in Carrolton, Texas, near his home. In 2011, Steven, as Vera's attorney-in-fact, executed and recorded a quit claim deed transferring all of Mitchell’s mineral interests to himself. Steven also wrote several checks to himself and others and made purchases using Mitchell’s Wells Fargo checking account as Mitchell’s attorney-in-fact. Tarryl alleged Steven made improper investments and purchased property using their mother's assets. When asked for an accounting of Vera's assets, Steven responded that the assets were depleted due to costs incurred for Vera's stay at the nursing facility. Tarryl sued to recover the assets. A settlement was reached, wherein Steven would pay back monies spent out of Vera's assets. The agreement was to be guaranteed by a second mortgagee on Steven's home. After being advised by Texas counsel that the second mortgage might be invalid under Texas law, Tarryl's counsel believed the settlement with Steven would not be binding. Because Steven believed the parties had reached a valid and enforceable settlement, he moved for dismissal when Tarryl sued pursuant to the agreement. The North Dakota Supreme Court concurred with the district court that Tarryl presented no evidence that the second mortgage was invalid under Texas law, so it was proper for the district court to dismiss her case. View "Joyce v. Joyce" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment and held that the trial court correctly interpreted the trust document and correctly rejected trustees' statute of limitations argument. In this case, the trial court correctly concluded that the contested amendment had no effect on Trusts B and C; the trial court correctly determined beneficiaries' claims in the 2010 petition are not a "contest" and thus are not time-barred; and the trust document required distribution of Trusts B and C as soon as is practicable after trustor's death. The court also held that trustees may represent themselves in this dispute without engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. View "Donkin v. Donkin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court concluding that a secondary beneficiary was entitled to property in a trust created by Paul and decedent Chari Colman, Paul's ex-wife, holding that the plain language of Nev. Rev. Stat. 111.781(1) automatically revokes any revocable disposition from one spouse to another upon divorce. While they were married, Paul and Chari lived in a home Chari owned as her separate property. Later, Chari transferred the property to the family trust but did not change its status as her separate property. The trust named Paul and Chari as the trust's primary beneficiaries and provided that, after their deaths, Tonya Collier was the beneficiary of the property. One month after Paul and Chari divorced, Chari died. Based on section 111.781(1), Collier filed a petition seeking to confirm her status as beneficiary to the property. The district court ordered the property transferred to Collier. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err by applying section 111.781 and concluding that it required revocation of Paul's interest in the property; and (2) substantial evidence supported the finding that the property remained Chari's separate property throughout the marriage. View "In re Colman Family Revocable Living Trust" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's decision invalidating the will and codicil of Dora Lee Gaaskjolen on the basis of undue influence, holding that the circuit court's determination of undue influence was not clearly erroneous. Dora Lee and her husband, Marlin, executed reciprocal wills giving their property to one another upon death, and their daughters, Audrey and Vicki, were named as equal, alternate beneficiaries. After Marlin died, Dora Lee executed a new will and, later, another will and codicil that disinherited Vicki and left her entire estate to Audrey. After Dora Lee died, Vicki challenged the will and codicil, claiming that Dora Lee lacked testamentary capacity and that Audrey had unduly influence Dora Lee. The circuit court concluded that Dora Lee had testamentary capacity but that Dora Lee's last will and codicil were the result of undue influence by Audrey. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in finding the last will and the codicil invalid because of Audrey's undue influence. View "In re Estate Of Gaaskjolen" on Justia Law

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The Commission issued the Estate a notice of deficiency, determining that the Estate had a $491,750.00 tax liability which differed from the Estate's tax return valuation. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the tax court's decision sustaining the Commission's determinations. The court held that the Estate holds a substituted limited partnership interest in SILP. The court also held that the Notice of Deficiency (including its attachments) fulfills the statutory requirement under 28 U.S.C. 6212. However, even assuming arguendo that the notice description was inadequate, the court could not invalidate it on that basis because Internal Revenue Code 7522(a) explicitly prohibits it from setting aside a notice for lacking the descriptive element. Finally, the court rejected the Estate's argument under the Administrative Procedure Act as without merit. View "Estate of Frank D. Streightoff v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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In January 2017, plaintiffs Lori Dougherty and Julie Lee's 89-year-old father passed away while living in Somerford Place, an elder residential care facility owned and operated by defendants Roseville Heritage Partners, Somerford Place, LLC, Five Star Quality Care, Inc., and Five Star Quality Care-Somerford, LLC. In July 2017, plaintiffs sued defendants, alleging elder abuse and wrongful death based upon the reckless and negligent care their father received while residing in defendants’ facility. Defendants appealed the trial court’s denial of their motion to compel arbitration and stay the action, contending the arbitration agreement did not contain any unconscionable or unlawful provisions. Alternatively, defendants argued the court abused its discretion by invalidating the agreement as a whole, rather than severing the offending provisions. The Court of Appeal found the arbitration agreement at issue here was "buried within the packet at pages 43 through 45," and "[b]ased on the adhesiveness of the agreement, and the oppression and surprise present," the Court concluded the trial court properly found the Agreement was imposed on a “take it or leave it” basis and evinced a high degree of procedural unconscionability. Under the sliding scale approach, only a low level of substantive unconscionability was required to render the arbitration agreement unenforceable. Likewise, the Court concurred that the arbitration agreement was substantively unconscionable, "particularly given the accompanying evidence of procedural unconscionability." The Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court's declination to sever the offending provisions of the agreement, rather than invalidate the entire agreement. View "Dougherty v. Roseville Heritage Partners" on Justia Law

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Huntingdon College, a beneficiary of the Bellingrath-Morse Foundation Trust ("the Foundation"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Mobile Probate Court to vacate its order denying Huntingdon's motion to dismiss an action filed by the Foundation's trustees, on behalf of the Foundation, and to enter an order dismissing the action for lack of jurisdiction. Walter Bellingrath established the Foundation, a charitable trust ("the Trust Indenture"). Mr. Bellingrath contributed to the Foundation, both at its inception, and through his will and codicil, substantial property, including the Bellingrath Gardens ("the Gardens") and his stock in the Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Beneficiaries of the Foundation included three privately supported Christian colleges: Huntingdon College, Rhodes College, and Stillman College. The Foundation’s trustees and the beneficiaries have historically disagreed as to whether the Trust Indenture contemplated the subsidy of the Gardens by the Foundation and, if so, to what extent and with what limitations, if any. The trustees had difficulty operating the Gardens based on agreed-upon caps to the Garden's subsidy, and have voted to increase the distribution amount to the Gardens. They sought declaratory relief in order to maintain a reserve for the repair and capital improvement of the Gardens, and to distribute to the Gardens, in the trustees' sole discretion, such amount of the Foundation's income they deemed necessary for the maintenance, repair and operation of the Gardens. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the the probate court lacked jurisdiction to modify the Mobile Circuit Court's final judgment approving a 2003 Amendment. The Supreme Court therefore granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the probate court to dismiss the trustees' action. View "Ex parte Huntingdon College." on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from Carol McCoy Brown’s petition for an elective share of her decedent husband’s augmented estate. When Michael Orion Brown (the decedent) died intestate, she discovered that he had set aside multiple payable on death (POD) accounts for his children and grandchildren from a prior marriage. Carol filed a petition to recover a portion of the POD funds as part of the decedent’s augmented estate. The decedent’s children, Dorraine Pool and Michael J. Brown (the Heirs), challenged the petition. The magistrate court denied Carol's petition, concluding that she had not met her burden of demonstrating that the POD funds were quasi-community property as required by the elective share statutes. Carol appealed to the district court, which affirmed the magistrate court’s denial of the petition, and granted the Heirs attorney fees. Still aggrieved, Carol sought certiorari review by the Idaho Supreme Court. But finding no reversible error in either of the lower courts' decisions, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Rodney Hogen appealed an order denying his motion and an order terminating a trust. He argued on appeal he should have received additional funds from the Trust. Specifically, Rodney argued the district court’s previous order, and the North Dakota Supreme Court’s opinion affirming the order, permitted only $208,000, and no additional funds, to be taken from his share. Rodney argued the prior order was binding and the order by the court denying his motion impermissibly changed the meaning of the prior order. Rodney also argues the court erred in terminating the Trust. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Matter of Hogen Trust B" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court finding that the petition filed by a trust's sole beneficiary seeking removal of the trustee violated the trust's no-contest clause and in entering summary judgment in the trustee's favor on its declaratory judgment claim, holding that the no-contest clause in the trust document was enforceable. After the beneficiary in this case stopped receiving distributions from the trust, he filed suit against the trustee for removal of the trustee and breach of trust. The trustee filed a counterclaim seeking a judgment declaring that the petition violated the trust instrument's no-contest clause and thus canceled and revoked all trust provisions in the beneficiary's favor. The circuit court sustained the motion for summary judgment on the trustee's counterclaim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the beneficiary did not seek relief form the no-contest clause pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. 456.4-420 and instead filed a petition asserting the claims the settlor unambiguously stated would forfeit the beneficiary's interest in the trust, the circuit court properly found the petition violated the trust's no-contest clause. View "Knopik v. Shelby Investments, LLC" on Justia Law