Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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The estate of a severely disabled woman sued her in-home care providers for negligence in causing her death. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the providers, ruling that the estate was required to support its negligence claim with expert testimony, and failed to do so. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court held that the estate was not required to present expert testimony to establish a breach of the duty of care because the estate’s theory of fault was one of ordinary negligence that did not turn on the exercise of professional skill or judgment. “The estate’s theory of causation, by contrast, is complex and must be supported by the opinion of a medical expert. But the treating physician’s deposition testimony is sufficient evidence of causation to survive summary judgment.” The Court therefore reversed the superior court’s decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "Culliton v. Hope Community Resources, Inc." on Justia Law

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The estate of Helene Evans, a deceased Oregon resident, challenged the Oregon Tax Court’s determination that the Department of Revenue lawfully included in Evans’s taxable Oregon estate the principal assets of a Montana trust, of which Evans had been the income beneficiary. Although Evans had a right to receive income generated by those assets during her lifetime and potentially had the right to tap the assets themselves, the estate claimed she had not owned, and did not have control over the assets. Under those circumstances, plaintiff argued, Oregon did not have the kind of connection to the trust assets that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution required for a state to impose a tax on a person, property, or transaction. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that Oregon’s imposition of its estate tax on the trust assets in this case comported with the requirements of due process. It, therefore, affirmed the judgment of the Tax Court. View "Estate of Evans v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court dismissing Appellants' creditor claim against the estate of John Calvin, holding that the circuit court properly dismissed the creditor claim.Calvin was the lifetime beneficiary of the Ben W. Calvin Trust, and Appellants - Calvin's children - were the remainder beneficiaries. After Calvin died, Appellants brought a creditor claim against his estate, alleging that Calvin had received disbursements of principal from the Trust in violation of the terms of the Trust. The circuit court dismissed the creditor claim, concluding that the Trust disbursements to Calvin were proper under the terms of the Trust. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellants failed to show that they had standing to assert a claim against the Estate. View "In re Estate Of Calvin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court reversing the determination of the Massachusetts Office of Medicaid's board of hearings that Plaintiff's home was a countable asset, making her ineligible for Medicaid long-term care benefits, holding that the superior court did not err.While they were both still living, Plaintiff and her husband created an irrevocable trust, the corpus of which included their home. The terms of the trust granted Plaintiff, during her lifetime, a limited power of appointment to appoint all or any portion of the trust principal to a nonprofit or charitable organization over which she had no controlling interest. MassHealth denied Plaintiff's application for long-term care benefits, determining that the home was a countable asset because Plaintiff purportedly could use her limited power of appointment to appoint portions of the home's equity, which was included as part of the trust principal, to the nursing home where Plaintiff lived as payment for her care. The superior court reversed. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the plain terms of the trust neither intended for nor permitted Plaintiff to exercise her limited power of appointment for her benefit, as contemplated by MassHealth. View "Fournier v. Secretary of Executive Office of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court setting aside a default certificate under Utah R. Civ. P. 55(c), holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in setting aside the default certificate.This complaint was filed by family members alleging mismanagement of the decedents' trusts and unjust enrichment and seeking an accounting of trust funds and a declaratory judgment establishing their rights under the trusts. After the answer deadline, Plaintiffs filed a proposed order entering Defendants' default and then filed a motion for default judgment. The district court denied Plaintiffs' motion for default judgment and granted Defendants' request to set aside the default certificate, arguing that they had shown "good cause" to set aside the default certification under Rule 55(c). The court granted Defendants' request to set aside the default certificate. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion finding there was good cause to set aside the default certificate. View "Gillman v. Gillman" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Great American filed an interpleader action seeking to determine the proper beneficiary of two annuities belonging to decedent. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the daughter (Ava), rejecting the widow and stepson's (Alita and Craig) claims. The Fifth Circuit then determined that material issues of fact existed, vacated the district court's summary judgment in favor of Ava, and remanded the case for trial. While those proceedings were pending, Ava and her sister, Phyllis, filed another suit in 2018 claiming entitlement to other assets belonging to the decedent, including life insurance proceeds, an individual retirement account (IRA), and mineral rights. Both cases were consolidated for trial where the district court again held in favor of Ava and Phyllis.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court's finding of undue influence as to Craig is amply supported by the record; appellants' claim that the district court erred in imposing a requirement that appellants must prove that decedent received independent advice from a disinterested third party before making the beneficiary changes to his policies and accounts is without merit; while the district court did not require evidence relating to disinterested third parties, it did require some form of clear and convincing evidence from which it could conclude that the transfers were decedent's true, untampered, intent; and the district court did not, as appellants, contend, impose a burden of clear and convincing evidence on Alita.The court also concluded that the record is clear that the district court did not award damages based on a theory of unjust enrichment. Rather, the district court awarded damages based on a finding of undue influence on Craig's part. The court further concluded that the district court did not err by imposing joint and several liability on appellants. Finally, in regards to the disposition of real property in Arkansas, the district court did not err in ordering Craig to convey the improperly obtained mineral interests back to Ava and Phyllis. View "Tanner v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint alleging that defendant, a superior court judge, violated plaintiff's due process rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Plaintiff, an heir to the Disney fortune, alleged that defendant violated his rights by appointing a guardian without notice or a hearing, and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by commenting (apparently with questionable factual basis) that plaintiff had Down syndrome.The panel concluded that most of plaintiff's claims are now moot after defendant removed the guardian ad litem and relinquished this case to another judge. The panel also concluded that, while defendant's statement may have been inaccurate and inappropriate, any claim challenging it is barred by judicial immunity. Finally, the district court did not err in denying leave to amend where all of plaintiff's proposed amendments were futile. View "Lund v. Cowan" on Justia Law

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A.B., a 40-year-old male diagnosed to suffer from severe schizophrenia, has been subject to conservatorships on and off for 20 years. A.B. has no real property or significant assets; his only income is $973.40 in monthly social security benefits. The public guardian was most recently appointed as A.B.’s conservator in 2016 and reappointed annually until the dismissal of the conservatorship in 2019. In August 2017, the public guardian was awarded $1,025 and county counsel was awarded $365 in compensation for services rendered 2016-2017. In 2018, the court entered an order for compensation for the public guardian and county counsel in the same amounts covering 2017-2018. The public guardian sought compensation for services rendered 2018-2019, $1,569.79 for its services, and $365 for county counsel.The court found that the request for compensation was just, reasonable, and necessary to sustain the support and maintenance of the conservatee, and approved the petition, again ordering the public guardian to defer collection of payment if it determined that collection would impose a financial hardship on the conservatee. The court of appeal reversed. While the court had sufficient information before it to enable consideration of the factors enumerated in Probate Code section 2942(b), the court failed to do so and improperly delegated responsibility to the public guardian to defer collection. View "Conservatorship of A.B." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants Walter “Gil” Goodrich (individually and in his capacity as the executor of his father—Henry Goodrich, Sr.’s— succession), Henry Goodrich, Jr., and Laura Goodrich Watts brought suit against Defendant-Appellee United States of America. Plaintiffs claimed that, in an effort to discharge Henry Sr.’s tax liability, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) wrongfully levied their property, which they had inherited from their deceased mother, Tonia Goodrich, subject to Henry Sr.’s usufruct. A magistrate judge previously determined Plaintiffs were not the owners of money seized by the IRS, and that represented the value of certain liquidated securities. The Fifth Circuit determined that whether Plaintiffs were in fact owners of the disputed funds was an issue governed by Louisiana law. The Fifth Circuit declined further review until the Louisiana Supreme Court had a chance to review the ownership issue in the first instance. View "Goodrich, et al v. United States" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint filed in connection with mother's estate, holding that the district court erred in granting the motion to dismiss as it pertained to count two.Plaintiff brought this suit against Defendants, her two sisters, who were appointed as co-executors of the estate upon the death of the mother. Count one set forth a number of state law tort claims relating to Defendants' actions with respect to actions that Plaintiff contended should have been part of the estate. Count two set forth Massachusetts law claims relating to the discharge of a mortgage that the motion held on Plaintiff's Massachusetts condominium. Defendants and the mother were all New Jersey residents. The district court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss, finding a lack of personal jurisdiction conclusive of this case. The First Circuit reversed in part, holding (1) the district court erred in ruling that there was no federal subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's count two claims; and (2) the district court properly dismissed Plaintiff's count one claims. View "Mojtabai v. Mojtabai" on Justia Law