Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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After decedent Charles Fulks died, his wife, petitioner-appellee Dorothy Fulks, filed the probate of his estate in the District Court of Nowata County, Oklahoma. An heir at law-appellant, the decedent's daughter, Tammy McPherson, objected to the probate in Nowata County. She argued that: (1) the decedent died in Osage County, and all of the decedent's real and personal property was located in Osage County; (2) pursuant to 58 O.S. 2011 section 5, the proper venue for the probate was solely in Osage County, Oklahoma; and (3) the case should have been transferred pursuant to the doctrine of intrastate forum non conveniens. The trial court determined that Nowata County was also a proper venue, and it denied the daughter's request to transfer the cause to Osage County. The daughter appealed, and after review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held venue was proper in Osage County. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Fulks" on Justia Law

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Tomeka McElroy and Marlon McElroy (collectively, "the contestants") appealed a judgment entered in favor of Tracy McElroy, as the personal representative of the estate of Clifton McElroy, Jr. Clifton McElroy dies in 2010, leaving a will purportedly executed by him on October 15, 2008. On April 14, 2010, Tracy petitioned the probate court to admit the will to probate, averring that the will was self-proving in accordance with the requirements of section 43-8-132, Ala. Code 1975. On that same day, the probate court admitted the will to probate and issued letters testamentary to Tracy. On September 16, 2010, the contestants filed a will contest in the probate court challenging the validity of the will. They specifically alleged that Clifton's signature on the will was forged and that, therefore, the will was not properly executed. After discovery delays, multiple continuances, and a failed summary-judgment motion filed by the contestants, the circuit court conducted a three-day bench trial on the will contest. After hearing the evidence, the circuit court entered a judgment finding that, although the will did not meet the requirements of a self-proving will under section 43-8-132, it was properly executed and witnessed and was, therefore, valid under section 43-8- 131, Ala. Code 1975. The contestants appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed their appeal because the administration of the estate had not been properly removed from the probate court; thus, the circuit court never obtained subject-matter jurisdiction over the estate administration or the will contest. After the Supreme Court dismissed the contestants' appeal, the probate court ordered a new trial to determine the validity of the will. After considering the testimony, which, again, included testimony in the transcript from the circuit-court bench trial, the probate court entered a judgment declaring that the will was valid and ordering that it be admitted to probate. The contestants appealed again. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court determined the will was properly executed pursuant to section 43-8-131 and it was properly proved pursuant to 43-8-167. View "McElroy v. McElroy, as personal representative of the Estate of Clifton McElroy, Jr." on Justia Law

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Gail Howard, Bruce Lindvig, and Milton Lindvig, personally and as Successor Personal Representative to the Estate of Ralph H. Lindvig, (together “the estate of Ralph Lindvig”) appealed a judgment entered in consolidated formal probate proceedings. In 2007, due to financial concerns related to paying for Ralph's care, his wife Dorothy Lindvig, acting as Ralph's attorney in fact, sold portions of Ralph's interests in the land he received from his parents to Milton Lindvig, Ralph's brother. The transfers were made by two warranty deeds, each of which severed the minerals and reserved them to Ralph and Dorothy as joint tenants. In May of 2007, Dorothy, again acting as Ralph's attorney in fact, conveyed the Wattam land to herself by warranty deed. When Ralph died, Dorothy was the personal representative of his estate. After her death in 2009, she was replaced by Milton. Dorothy died intestate, survived by a brother and her sister, Patricia Jellum, who was the personal representative of Dorothy's estate. The estate of Ralph Lindvig filed a petition in Dorothy's probate proceedings to set aside the intestate distribution of the minerals she severed and the Wattam land she conveyed to herself. The estate argued the transfers were beyond Dorothy's authority because they diminished the size of his estate and were not approved by a court, all in contravention of the power of attorney’s gifting provisions. The parties stipulated to consolidating the two probates as formal administrations. The probate court determined Dorothy did not breach her fiduciary duties by engaging in improper self-dealing. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the probate court's judgment. View "Estate of Lindvig" on Justia Law

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Donald Moore, Scott Moore, and the Glenn W. Moore & Sons partnership appealed an amended judgment ordering the partnership to pay $140,206 to Delbert Moore’s step-children, Charles Minard, Candice Eberhart, and Terry Minard. Before his death, Delbert Moore was a partner with his brother Donald Moore and nephew Scott Moore in the Glenn W. Moore & Sons partnership, a ranching business. Delbert Moore’s will directed that a majority of his real property be sold within six months of his death and the proceeds be distributed to his three step-children, Charles Minard, Candice Eberhart, Terry Minard, and his nephew Scott Moore. His will also devised his one-third interest in the partnership to his three step- children. Delbert Moore’s real property sold in May 2015. The partnership and Delbert Moore’s estate each hired an accountant to prepare an accounting of the partnership’s profits and losses; the Estate’s one-third share of the partnership’s profits was $140,206. The partnership argues the district court erred in adopting the Estate’s accounting of the partnership’s profits and losses. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Estate of Moore" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the probate of Eric Milo Hirning’s will, and concerned a magistrate court’s authority to conduct formal probate proceedings and approve an estate’s final accounting and distribution. Three beneficiaries of the will, appellants Cindy Louise Uzzle, John E. White, and Jody Hirning, challenged the procedural grounds of the district court’s decision on appeal, the propriety of a magistrate court’s order approving the estate’s final accounting and proposed distribution, and the district court’s award of attorney’s fees. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court found no reversible error except that neither party should have been awarded costs or attorney's fees. View "Uzzle v. Estate of Hirning" on Justia Law

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When Louis Rabin died, he left everything to his widow, Claudine. She was also named as the personal representative to manage his estate in probate. Louis’s former wife, Suyue Rabin, made a claim against the estate based on a couple of promissory notes. These notes totaled $200,000 and were made payable to Suyue upon Louis’s death, and were executed while Louis was married to Claudine. Claudine didn’t know the notes existed until Suyue made the claim. Claudine asked Louis’s longtime attorney, Mark Freirich, for all of Louis’s legal files, most of which had nothing to do with the notes. He refused, citing confidentiality concerns. She then subpoenaed the files. When Freirich refused, a lawsuit was filed, reaching the Colorado Supreme Court. After review, the Court held: (1) Colorado’s Probate Code did not grant a personal representative a general right to take possession of all of a decedent’s legal files as “property” of the estate; (2) a decedent’s lawyer was ordinarily prohibited from disclosing a decedent’s legal files, even to the personal representative; but (3) a decedent’s lawyer could provide the personal representative with otherwise privileged or confidential documents if such disclosure was necessary to settle the decedent’s estate. The Court of Appeals erred in reversing the district court's order quashing the subpoena. That portion of the appellate court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Freirich v. Rabin" on Justia Law

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Joel Finstrom, James Finstrom and Annette Hauser appeal from orders and a judgment denying their claims related to Ruth Finstrom’s estate. Ruth and Carl Finstrom had seven children: James, Daniel , Joel, Annette Hauser, Janice Schulz, Mark, and Rebecca Lusk. In the late 1980s, Carl and Daniel Finstrom began farming together. According to trial testimony, Daniel made oral agreements with his parents to acquire three quarters of real property. In 2011 Daniel believed he had fulfilled the agreements, but Carl requested an additional $240,000 for the property. In August 2011, Ruth and Carl executed identical wills. The wills devised one-third of a quarter section of property to Joel, stating he had paid one-third of the price for the property. The quarter devised to Joel was one of the quarters Daniel believed he purchased. Carl died in November 2011. In December 2012, Ruth executed a contract for deed conveying the three quarters of real property to Daniel and Teresa Finstrom for $240,000. Ruth executed a new will in July 2015, devising the residue of her estate to her seven children in equal shares. In July 2016, Ruth conveyed additional real property to her daughter Janice Schulz. Ruth died in December 2016. In December 2016, the district court admitted Ruth Finstrom’s 2015 will to informal probate and appointed James personal representative. In March 2017, Joel filed a claim against the estate, asserting the estate owed him $200,000 for the value of an interest he owned in Ruth's real property. Joel also claimed the estate owed him $2,000 per month for providing Ruth in-home health care from May 1, 2015, to April 21, 2016. In May 2017, Mark petitioned for the removal of James as personal representative. In September 2017, James, individually and as personal representative, sued Schulz and Daniel and Teresa Finstrom seeking to invalidate the real property conveyances Ruth made to them. James Finstrom argued Ruth was unduly influenced in conveying the property. Schulz and Daniel and Teresa Finstrom denied the claims and counterclaimed, arguing James breached his fiduciary duties to the estate. James resigned as personal representative and Heartland Trust Company was appointed as successor personal representative. On March 12, 2019, the district court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law and order for judgment, ruling Ruth's 2015 will was valid and revoked her 2011 will. The court denied Joel's claim he had an interest in Ruth's real property, and upheld Ruth's conveyances to Schulz and Daniel and Teresa Finstrom. The court found Ruth did not lack mental capacity to make the conveyances. The court also found Daniel and Teresa Finstrom did not have a confidential relationship with Ruth, and Ruth was not unduly influenced. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Joel, James and Annette's claims against the estate. View "Estate of Finstrom" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court awarding Tracey Martin her agreed-upon share of proceeds of John Wood's insurance policy after he committed suicide, holding that the circuit court did not err.During their divorce proceeding, Wood agreed to maintain a preexisting life insurance policy for the partial benefit of Tracey Martin. The circuit court incorporated the agreement (the agreement) into the final divorce decree. Six years later, in defiance of the court order, Wood removed Martin as a beneficiary and designated his brothers, his new wife, and a friend as beneficiaries on the policy. Wood committed suicide two days later. In a lawsuit initiated by Martin, the insurer interpleaded the policy proceeds. The circuit court awarded Martin her share of the proceeds consistent with the divorce decree. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Va. Code 38.2-3122(B) did not bar Martin's claim because the final divorce decree that ratified and incorporated the agreement created an equitable assignment; and (2) faced with competing equities, the circuit court did not err in finding Martin's beneficial interest in the interpleader proceeds to be superior to that of the new beneficiaries. View "Wood v. Martin" on Justia Law

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The district court affirmed the North Dakota Department of Human Service’s determination that Harold Ring was ineligible for Medicaid. When these proceedings began, Ring was ninety-six years old and living in the Good Samaritan Home in Mohall. An application for Medicaid was submitted on his behalf in April 2018. It was denied due to disqualifying transfers. Ring’s daughter, Nancy Ring, filed a second Medicaid application on Ring’s behalf in November 2018. The November application was also denied because Ring’s “client share (recipient liability) is more than the medical expenses.” Ring died after the Department issued its decision but before the district court affirmed. No party was substituted on Ring’s behalf for purposes of the district court proceedings. In 2020, Ring's attorney filed a notice of appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court, claiming the Department’s imposition of a penalty period due to disqualifying transfers was inappropriate because Ring was a vulnerable adult who was financially exploited. On May 1, 2020, the Good Samaritan Society and the Department stipulated to dismissal of the probate petition because “a Special Administrator is not needed at this time.” The court dismissed the petition on May 5, 2020. The Supreme Court determined that essential issues remained unresolved in this matter: since neither side filed a notice of death or moved to substitute a party, the district court did not determine whether this action survived Ring's death, and if it did, whether a proper successor was available for substitution. The matter was remanded for these findings and substitution. View "Ring v. NDDHS" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court answered a question certified to it by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, holding that the assets of a self-settled discretionary spendthrift irrevocable trust governed by Massachusetts law are not protected from a reach and apply action by the deceased settlor's creditors.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that, based on the circumstances presented in this case and consistent with the well-established public policy of the Commonwealth, when a settlor creates a self-settled spendthrift irrevocable trust that is governed by Massachusetts law and that allowed unlimited distributions to the settlor during his lifetime, and a judgment-creditor's cause of action accrues prior to the settlor's death, a judgment-creditor of the settlor's estate may reach and apply the trust's assets after the settlor's death. View "De Prins v. Michaeles" on Justia Law