Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment in this dispute over a challenged provision in a revocable trust, holding that the challenged provision was not an impermissible restraint against marriage.When Marcille Borcherding died, she left her estate in trust in children. At issue was one trust provision stating that her son's interest will be distributed to him directly if he is unmarried at the time of her death but that if he is married when she dies, his interest will be held in trust. Her son sued, alleging that the provision was a void restraint against marriage. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the statutory prohibition against restraints on marriage applies only to a devise to a spouse by will and not to other dispositions; and (2) the son's ancillary due process claim failed. View "Rotert v. Stiles" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of Thomas Pribil and William Kilzer (together, Appellees), the copersonal representatives of the estate of Charles E. Lakin and the cotrustees of the Charles E. Lakin Revocable Trust, holding that a dispute of material fact existed precluding summary judgment.Appellant in this case was the Charles E. Lakin Foundation, Inc. Appellant argued that Appellees improperly paid Pribil approximately $7 million after Lakin's death. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Pribil and Kilzer in their individual and representative capacities. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a dispute of material fact existed regarding the foundation's fudicairy duty claims against Appellees as copersonal representatives and cotrustees. View "In re Estate of Lakin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order issued by the district court concerning the conservatorship and estate planning efforts of Appellant's elderly mother, H.D.K., holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion when it declined to issue a scheduling order; (2) did not abuse its discretion in declining to quash a subpoena for the file of H.D.K.'s attorney; (3) did not abuse its discretion when it concluded the conservatorship hearing after three days; (4) did not err when it issued findings regarding how H.D.K. intended to allocate her estate; (5) did not err by determining the present values of the properties in H.D.K.'s estate; and (6) did not err when it found H.D.K. had testamentary capacity. View "In re H.D.K." on Justia Law

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Augustus Ashton died in October 1951; his will created a trust to be funded by the residue of his estate for the benefit of his family members and certain charitable interests (the “Trust”). The will created eight separate fixed annuities benefitting designated family members; five of those annuities terminated pursuant to their terms. Appellant Elizabeth Reed, Ashton's grandniece, was one of three remaining beneficiaries, entitled to $2,400 annually irrespective of the size of the Trust’s corpus for the remainder of her life, and then any surviving children or grandchildren born during her lifetime would receive a portion of her $2,400 share. Every beneficiary was entitled to the Trust’s income rather than its principal. After the termination of fixed annuity payments to all named beneficiaries, the Trust would continue to fund scholarships at the University of Pennsylvania in perpetuity. PNC Bank ("PNC"), the successor trustee, generated a Fourth and Interim Accounting for the period 1983 and 2017. Among other matters, PNC set forth two requests for adjudication: (1) divide the Trust in two, with the first to be funded with $5 million and dedicated to the named beneficiaries' annuity payments and the second to be funded with the balance of the Trust's current assets dedicated to University scholarships; and (2) to increase its fee for administering the trust, based on a percentage of the market value of the Trust as of the previous month. In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether a vested beneficiary of the Trust had standing to challenge the Trust’s administration where her benefit consisted of a fixed annuity, and the Trust corpus was sufficient to provide the benefit for many years. The Supreme Court reversed the superior court insofar as it held Appellant lacked standing to object to transactions contained in the Fourth Account, and to PNC's request for additional compensation. "Appellant, as beneficiary under the Trust, had an interest which was harmed if the transactions of PNC as documented in the Fourth Account were improper as is alleged, and that her interest was substantial, direct, and immediate. It was substantial because any duties Appellant claims were breached were not owed to the general public, but to the beneficiaries.... any harm to Appellant’s interest in the trust res was not remote or speculative." View "Trust Under Will of Ashton" 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 dismissing Plaintiff's claims alleging improper distribution, fraud, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty, and aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, holding that the circuit court erred in part.Clifford Olson was the son of Edward Bickel but did not have a relationship with Edward and had never met any of his siblings while Edward was alive. After Edward died, his estate was distributed intestate to his three children born from two different marriages. After he learned about Edward's death, Clifford brought this action against his siblings. The circuit court granted summary judgment against Plaintiff. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that material issues of fact were in dispute as to certain issues, precluding summary judgment in part. View "Olson v. Berggren" on Justia Law

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Robert filed a petition, alleging that Dae violated a “no contest” clause in a family trust by filing a previous petition challenging Robert’s actions as trustee. Dae’s subsequently moved to strike Robert’s petition under the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute (Code Civ. Proc. 425.16.)The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. Robert’s No Contest Petition arose from protected petitioning activity under Code of Civil Procedure 425.16(e)(1); to defeat Dae’s motion, Robert was required to show a probability that he would prevail on that Petition. Robert made such a showing. Dae’s petition broadly challenged Robert’s conduct in setting up a financial structure that Robert claimed was designed to avoid estate taxes. If Robert’s claim is true, Dae’s petition would implicate the no-contest provision by seeking to “impair” trust provisions giving Robert the authority to manage trust assets. Dae also challenged his own removal as a beneficiary. Whether that more specific challenge amounts to a “contest” for purposes of the no-contest clause depends upon the trustors’ intent. Robert provided sufficient evidence of the trustors’ intent to allow a change of beneficiary to make a prima facie showing of probability of prevailing on Robert’s contention that Dae’s claims are a “contest.” The court expressed no opinion on the outcome of Robert’s petition. View "Dae v. Traver" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed for lack of a final, appealable order the probate court's denial of Appellant's "Verified Petition for Instruction" referencing Neb. Rev. Stat. 30-402, holding that the petition was not final and appealable.Appellant was a child of Rosa and Armengol Beltran, both deceased. After Armengol's death, a probate estate was opened. In an attempt to investigate his allegations that his sister and her husband failed to pay back loans owed to Rosa and Armengol Appellant served his brother-in-law with a deposition duces tecum requesting that he produce certain tax returns. When the request went unanswered Appellant filed his "Verified Petition for Instruction" asking that his sister appear and account for her actions in Rosa's estate. The probate court denied the petition for instruction. The Supreme Court dismissed Appellant's appeal, holding that the probate court's order denying Appellant's petition did not affect Appellant's substantial rights and was therefore not final. View "In re Estate of Beltran" on Justia Law

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Dr. Edwin Holt died tragically by his own hand at age forty-five. He left five minor children. At the time of his death, Dr. Holt was finalizing a divorce in Texas and seeking to have his dental license reinstated in Mississippi. Dr. Holt had hired first-year attorney Joshua Stretch to represent him in the dental-licensure matter. Due to his inexperience, Stretch associated more seasoned attorneys at Obert Law Group, Keith Obert and William Brown. When Dr. Holt died, Stretch still held $73,000 as a yet-to-be-earned retainer on the licensure issue. Stretch drove Dr. Holt’s mother, Janet Holt, to the funeral. He told her he wanted to handle estate matters. In all, Stretch, Obert, and occasionally Brown's efforts included locating and protecting estate assets and dealing with Dr. Holt’s ex-wife, who strenuously asserted the divorce was never finalized so she was Dr. Holt’s heir and not her five minor children. Stretch did not return the remainder of the prior dental-licensure retainer to Dr. Holt’s estate. Instead, he submitted this money to Obert Law Group, which in turn used this money to pay its first $73,000 in bills to the estate. After exhausting this money, Obert Law Group billed the executrix. The attorneys did not seek prior court approval of their attorney’s fees. Nor did they advise the executrix the bills should be court-approved before she paid them. Instead, because Janet believed she had no reason to question the invoices, she simply wrote checks from the estate to pay the invoices submitted to her, totaling $110,800. Their representation of the estate ended when Janet petitioned the court to replace Stretch, Obert, and Brown with new counsel. At this point, their motion for final accounting and attorney’s fees had yet to be approved by the court. And before approval, the trustee of the revocable trust established by Dr. Holt, to which he had bequeathed the residuary of his estate for the benefit of his family, petitioned the court for the return of all the fees they had collected. The trustee asserted Obert Law Group had never sought preapproval of its attorney’s fees and had never advised Janet of her duty to first seek court approval before paying Obert Law Group with estate assets. The trustee also alleged Obert Law Group padded its bills and mismanaged the estate. After a two-day hearing, the chancellor determined only $96,951 of the attorney’s fees in the estate matter were reasonable. So he ordered Obert Law Group reimburse the estate $84,945. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor's decision, finding the chancellor carefully considered Obert Law Group’s evidence and the factors for reasonable attorney’s fees set forth in Mississippi Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5, and it was not an abuse of discretion to order return of the fees. View "Obert Law Group, P.A.et al. v. Holt" on Justia Law

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Minnie Fountain, as guardian for her adult nephew, Leroy Wiggins, filed claims against Wiggins’s skilled nursing facility and its management: CL SNF, LLC d/b/a Clinch Healthcare Center (“CHC”); RWC Healthcare, LLC; PWW Healthcare, LLC; and Beacon Health Management, LLC (collectively, “Clinch”), after Wiggins allegedly was assaulted while in their care. Clinch moved to compel arbitration of the claims, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling based on a determination that neither the letters of guardianship issued by the probate court nor the provisions of the Georgia Code pertaining to guardians of adult wards gave Fountain the authority to enter into a pre-dispute arbitration agreement on Wiggins’s behalf. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Clinch’s petition for certiorari and reversed the Court of Appeals in CL SNF, LLC v. Fountain, 843 SE2d 605 (2020), because it concluded that the Guardianship Code granted a guardian authority to enter into a binding pre-dispute arbitration agreement where the exercise of such power was reasonably necessary to provide adequately for the ward’s support, care, health, and welfare. View "CL SNF, LLC et al. v. Fountain" on Justia Law

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Karen Wheeler, as administrator of the estate of Eugene Drayton, appealed a probate court judgment declaring Kristin Marvin was the biological child of Drayton, and was therefore an heir of Drayton for purposes of intestate succession. The probate court appointed Wheeler, who was Drayton's daughter, as the administrator of Drayton's estate. In her filings with the probate court, Wheeler identified herself and her brother as Drayton's only heirs. Marvin, however, later filed a petition with the probate court in which she claimed to also be a biological child of Drayton. She requested that the probate court consider the results of a DNA test allegedly showing that Drayton's half brother was Marvin's uncle and, therefore, indicating that Marvin was Drayton's daughter. Wheeler testified that she was unaware that Drayton had any children other than herself and her brother. She asserted that no one, including Drayton, had ever stated to her that Marvin was Drayton's child. Wheeler claimed to have met Marvin for the first time at a funeral held after the death of Drayton's mother, but, she said, Drayton did not introduce them. On appeal, Wheeler argued primarily that the probate court erred in considering the DNA test result, because the DNA samples were collected not by disinterested parties but by Marvin and Curtis, who then mailed them outside the presence of disinterested parties. Wheeler asserts that "there is a possibility that the samples were switched because they were in the exclusive possession of interested parties prior to being mailed to [the laboratory that performed the test]." She points out that the test result itself disclaims any responsibility for how the samples were collected and is based on the assumption that they were collected correctly. The Alabama Supreme Court found after review that Wheeler did not present any authority suggesting that the probate court could not admit and consider the DNA test if it believed the testimony of Curtis and Marvin describing how the DNA samples were collected and submitted. Accordingly, she did not show the probate court erred in considering the DNA test result based on how the samples were collected and submitted. View "Wheeler v. Marvin" on Justia Law