Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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The issue this case presented for the Alabama Supreme Court's review centered on whether, under the terms of a particular trust instrument, a person adopted as an adult was considered a lineal descendant of a beneficiary of the trust and, thus, a beneficiary. James Parris, G.D. Varn III, James V. Searse, Jr., and Samuel S. Parris appealed a partial summary judgment in favor of Phyllis Ballantine, Scott Harrison and Renee DuPont Harrison. The siblings argued that the use of the phrase "hereafter born" in defining "lineal descendants" in the 1971 trust implied that "adopted" descendants were excluded and demonstrated the trustors' intent that the 1971 trust benefit biological descendants only. The siblings also asserted the trustors defined "lineal descendants" in a manner different than the generic legal definition, while they defined "heirs" as all persons entitled to take by intestacy -– the primary, generic legal meaning. The Alabama Supreme Court found that at the time the 1971 trust was executed, there was no provision in the law authorizing the adoption of adults. "Although the Alabama Legislature enacted the Adult Adoption Act in 1973 authorizing the adoption of an adult for inheritance purposes, that act came into being two years after the 1971 trust was executed. ... [T]hose Code sections were repealed effective January 1, 1991, and replaced by the Alabama Adoption Code, section 26-10A-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. Accordingly, the probate court's judgment was affirmed on grounds that the law at the time the 1971 trust was executed did not allow adult adoption, that Samuel's adoption as an adult in 2016 did not make him a "lineal descendant" as that term was defined in the 1971 trust, and that, therefore, Samuel was not a beneficiary of the trust. View "Parris v. Ballantine et al." on Justia Law

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Defendants Alan Johnson and William Saturley were the former co-trustees of the 2004 David A. Hodges, Sr. Irrevocable GST Exempt Trust and the 2004 David A. Hodges, Sr. Irrevocable GST Non-Exempt Trust (collectively, the 2004 Trusts). In 2017, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld a circuit court decision that set aside “decantings” from the 2004 Trusts and removed the Former Co-Trustees. The Court specifically left “for another day the issue of whether [the Former Co- Trustees] are entitled to indemnification for the fees and expenses incurred in this proceeding” because, at that time, the trial court had not ruled upon the issue. In this appeal, the Former Co-Trustees challenged the determination, recommended by a Judicial Referee and approved by the Circuit Court, that, except for attorney’s fees and costs incurred for certain administrative tasks: (1) they were not entitled to be reimbursed from the 2004 Trusts for the post-trial fees and costs they personally incurred to defend the decantings; and (2) they had to reimburse the 2004 Trusts for the fees and costs the trusts incurred to defend the decantings at trial. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hodges v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court that Dan Cook's last will and testament be confirmed and admitted to probate and that Kim Smith be appointed personal representative of the estate, holding that, although the district court erred in applying an incorrect burden of proof to determine the validity of the will, the error was harmless.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err in concluding that Smith did not exceed her general power of attorney granted her by Cook when she transferred Cook's money; (2) the district court did not err in finding that Cook had the requisite capacity to enter into a valid marriage with Smith shortly before his death; and (3) while the court erred in applying an incorrect burden of proof in determining the validity of Cook's will, the error was harmless because the court's findings of fact were sufficient under the correct burden of proof to support the conclusion that Cook was competent to create and amend a valid will. View "In re Estate of Cook" on Justia Law

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Frank Gomez and plaintiff Louise Gomez rekindled their love over 60 years after Frank broke off their first engagement because he was leaving to serve in the Korean War. Frank’s children from a prior marriage, defendants Tammy Smith and Richard Gomez, did not approve of their marriage. After Frank fell ill, he attempted to establish a new living trust with the intent to provide for Louise during her life. Frank’s illness unfortunately progressed quickly. Frank’s attorney, Erik Aanestad, attempted to have Frank sign the new living trust documents the day after Frank was sent home under hospice care. Aanestad unfortunately never got the chance to speak with Frank because Tammy and Richard intervened and precluded Aanestad from entering Frank’s home. Frank, who was bedridden, died early the following morning. Louise sued Tammy and Richard for intentional interference with expected inheritance, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and elder abuse. Tammy filed a cross-complaint against Louise for recovery of trust property. A trial court issued a statement of decision finding in favor of Louise as to her intentional interference with expected inheritance cause of action and in favor of Tammy and Richard as to the remaining causes of action. The trial court also ruled against Tammy on her cross-complaint. Tammy appealed the judgment in favor of Louise; she did not appeal the trial court’s ruling with regard to her cross-complaint. Tammy argued the judgment should have been reversed because: (1) Louise admitted she did not expect to receive an inheritance; (2) Tammy’s conduct was not tortious independent of her interference; (3) the trial court applied an erroneous legal standard in its capacity analysis; (4) there is no substantial evidence to support the finding that Frank had the capacity to execute the trust documents; (5) the trial court’s finding that Tammy knew Louise expected an inheritance is contradicted by the evidence; and (6) alternatively, the constructive trust remedy is fatally ambiguous. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Gomez v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Deitrick Bryant ("Deitrick") committed suicide in his cell while he was an inmate at the Greene County, Alabama jail. Deitrick's mother, as the administrator of his estate, sued two jail employees, alleging that their negligence allowed Deitrick's suicide to happen. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the jail employees, and Deitrick's mother appealed. "The controlling factor in determining whether there may be a recovery for a failure to prevent a suicide is whether the defendants reasonably should have anticipated that the deceased would attempt to harm himself." The Alabama Supreme Court determined Bryant failed to put forth evidence that would allow a factfinder to conclude that jail staff could have anticipated Deitrick's suicide. Accordingly, the summary judgment entered by the trial court was affirmed. View "Bryant v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Virginia McDorman, conservator for Sim Moseley, appealed a probate court judgment awarding Ralph Moseley, Jr., attorney fees pursuant to the Alabama Litigation Accountability Act ("the ALAA"). Sim had a brother, Ralph Carmichael Moseley III ("Mike"), who was born during the marriage of Virginia and Ralph. Sim also had a half brother, Slate McDorman, who was born during the marriage of Virginia and her current husband, Clarence McDorman, Jr. In February 2013, Mike, as brother and next friend of Sim, petitioned the probate court to remove Virginia as Sim's conservator; among other things, he asked Ralph be appointed as successor conservator, and asked for an accounting of the conservatorship. During the pendency of the proceeding, a dispute arose about an IRA Ralph created and funded for Sim's benefit. During discovery, Virginia requested Ralph produce proof of contributions he made to the IRA; Ralph denied an IRA was established. Virginia submitted an accounting, along with a "Settlement Agreement" executed by Sim and by Virginia as conservator releasing Ralph from any and all claims related directly or indirectly to Ralph's funding or removing funds from the IRA Ralph attempted for Sim. Virginia also filed an affidavit signed by Ralph stating he agreed to withdraw any request that Virginia be removed as conservator for Sim's estate and affirming that his payment of $5,000 pursuant to the agreement was in exchange for a full release of all claims against him. In December 2015, more than a year and a half after the agreement and Ralph's affidavit were executed, Virginia and Sim moved to set aside the agreement, alleging Ralph had fraudulently induced them to execute the agreement by failing to truthfully answer discovery and by withholding information about the IRA. They stated Ralph closed the IRA and filed a fraudulent tax return on behalf of Sim, listing the IRA distribution as income, causing Sim to owe federal taxes and impacting his qualification for various governmental disability benefits. Ralph responded that Virginia and Sim were aware of the IRA when they signed the agreement; Ralph requested attorney fees he incurred as a result of responding to and opposing the motion to set aside the agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court determined an award of attorney fees relating to to defending the validity of the agreement in the probate court action was not erroneous; the Court reversed the probate court's amount of fees, remanding the issue for a determination of the appropriate amount of fees attributable to defending the validity of the agreement in the probate court action. In all other respects, the Court affirmed the judgment in favor of Ralph. View "McDorman v. Moseley, Jr." on Justia Law

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In February 2020, the 79-year-old ward was a patient at a hospital in Lebanon, New Hampshire. At that time, the hospital filed a petition to appoint a guardian over the ward’s person and estate. The hospital alleged a guardianship was necessary because the ward “has persistent cognitive impairment due to an anoxic brain injury and a major [neurocognitive] disorder,” which “renders him unable to provide for his personal needs for health care, food, clothing, shelter and safety” or to “manage his finances or estate.” The court held a hearing in March at which only the ward’s adult children were present. The ward’s children testified that, in October 2019, when their father was in the intensive care unit, they executed a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) order for him. The ward had no DNR order previously. When the ward’s condition improved and he was transferred to a medical ward, he specifically told his children that he wanted the DNR order removed. Based upon the evidence at the March hearing, the court found that the ward was incapacitated and that a guardianship was necessary as a means of providing for his “continuing care ... and for the prudent management of [his] property and financial affairs.” The court limited the guardian’s authority to execute either a DNR order or an order limiting life-sustaining treatment. In August 2020, the guardian moved for a hearing to ask the court to remove the limitations on her authority regarding the ward’s medical care. The guardian averred that the ward, who now resided in a nursing home, was in need of dialysis but had refused dialysis on three occasions, and refused future treatment. The guardian asserted that, by declining to resume dialysis, “the ward himself has decided to stop his own life sustaining treatment,” and that “without having a DNR order in place and without anyone else having the ability to sign [one],” it will be “quite problematic and painful for the ward.” The ward’s attorney informed the court that the ward was “very clear that he did not want a DNR Order.” Upon interlocuroty transfer without a ruling from the circuit court, the New Hampshire Supreme Court accepted review of issues arising from the ward's guardianship. The Court determined that although the ward had a guardian to make health care decisions on his behalf, the trial court had limited the guardian’s authority to withhold life-sustaining treatment, including whether to execute a DNR order on his behalf. "Under these circumstances, given the ward’s lack of capacity to make health care decisions generally, and assuming that he does not have a valid and unrevoked living will or an authorized agent under a durable power of attorney for health care, the process for appointing a surrogate, as described in RSA 137-J:34-:37, applies. ... Accordingly, it does not appear that at this time, a DNR order may be executed on his behalf by his health care providers." View "In re Guardianship of D.E." on Justia Law

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N.G., Jr. ("father"); B.J.U., the father's legal guardian; and the N.G., Jr. Special Needs Trust, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief, to direct the Russell Juvenile Court to vacate an order transferring to the Russell Circuit Court a claim asserted by P.W. ("mother") alleging the fraudulent transfer of the father's assets in a case she filed seeking past-due child support. In 2005, the father was involved in an automobile accident and was rendered permanently disabled. His mother, B.J.U., was appointed as his guardian. Through B.J.U., the father commenced a personal-injury action seeking to recover compensation for injuries he sustained in the accident. The personal-injury action settled, and, in 2013, the settlement proceeds were placed in the special-needs trust. In August 2019, the mother filed a petition in the Russell Juvenile Court seeking to recover approximately $70,000 in past-due child support allegedly owed by the father. The mother also named B.J.U., in her individual capacity and as the father's guardian, as a defendant and alleged that she had secreted the father's assets. The mother asserted that placing the proceeds of the father's personal-injury settlement in the special-needs trust was a fraudulent transfer. She also added the special-needs trust as a defendant. The Alabama Supreme Court determined petitioners did not demonstrate the juvenile court was without power to transfer the mother's fraudulent-transfer claim to the circuit court. Accordingly, the Supreme Court denied the petition for relief. View "Ex parte N.G., Jr." on Justia Law

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Defendants below, Sam Smith, director of the Calhoun County Department of Human Resources ("CCDHR"); Pamela McClellan, an adult-protective-services caseworker with CCDHR; and Teresa Ellis, McClellan's supervisor (referred to collectively as "petitioners"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate its order denying their motion for a summary judgment in a wrongful-death action filed by William David Streip ("David"), as the personal representative of the estate of his sister, Jerrie Leeann Streip ("Leeann"), and to enter a summary judgment in their favor on the basis of immunity. Leeann suffered from numerous serious physical, mental, and emotional conditions since birth; those conditions were exacerbated by brain surgery in 2013. Following that surgery, Leeann was released to a nursing-home facility before being discharged into the care of her father. Leeann subsequently reported to a CCDHR social worker that her father had raped her. As a result, an adult-protective-services case was opened under Alabama's Adult Protective Services Act ("the APSA"), and McClellan was assigned as Leeann's caseworker. Upon the conclusion of the ensuing investigation, CCDHR removed Leeann from her father's care. Leeann was placed at a Leviticus Place, a boarding home where she remained for approximately one week. There were no concerns about Leeann's well being, but McClellan was notified Leann had left Leviticus Place and did not return. A body located in Birmingham was later identified as Leeann's; her cause of death remains "undetermined." After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined petitioners established they were entitled to statutory immunity. They had a clear legal right to a summary judgment in their favor on that ground. The trial court was accordingly directed to vacate its order denying the petitioners' motion for a summary judgment and to enter a summary judgment in the petitioners' favor. View "Ex parte Sam Smith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court concluding that the Successor Trustee of The Phillip G. Jackson Family Revocable Trust lacked authority to sell real property held by the Trust for the care, maintenance and support of the surviving settlor, holding that the district court did not err as a matter of law.The Successor Trustee filed a complaint for declaratory judgment requesting a ruling that he could sell real property held by the Trust for the support of the surviving settlor, Phillip Jackson. The district court found that the Successor Trustee had no authority to eject Candyce Montoya, who had resided rent-free at the property for over forty years, from the property and to sell it for the benefit of Mr. Jackson during Montoya's life because the Trust granted Montoya a life interest in the property. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Montoya's interest in the property will not vest until the death of the remaining settlor; and (2) therefore, the Successor Trustee may sell the property for the benefit of the remaining settlor in accordance with the terms of the Trust. View "Jackson v. Montoya" on Justia Law