Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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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

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's entry of summary judgment concluding that Robert Bohling's father left a valid will, holding that there was no merit to any of Robert's assignments of error.When Willis Bohling (Bohling) died, he left a self-proved will. His daughter, Kimberly Bohling, initiated informal probate proceedings and was appointed the personal representative of Bohling's estate. Robert objected and filed a petition seeking dismissal of the informal probate application and requesting a determination of intestacy, a determination of heirs, and appointment of a special administrator. Kimberly moved for summary judgment, arguing that the will was valid and should be admitted to probate. The district court granted summary judgment for Kimberly. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Robert's arguments on appeal were without merit. View "Bohling v. Bohling" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court in this trust and estate dispute, holding that, under certain circumstances, a party may assert a claim for intentional interference with inheritance.A dozen years after the decedent's death, his children sued David Rudd - the attorney who represented the decedent in various matters - and Ballard Spahr, LLP - the law firm where Rudd was a partner - claiming that Defendants improperly influenced the decedent to amend his will and trust in a way that shifted a portion of the children's expected inheritance to other beneficiaries, engaged in improper and/or misleading conduct, and mishandled estate assets after the decedent's death. On appeal were the district court's grant of (1) Defendants' motion to dismiss the children's claim for intentional interference with inheritance, (2) summary judgment on several tort claims the children wanted to assert on behalf of the decedent's estate, and (3) a motion in limine preventing the children from impeaching Rudd with certain statements. The Supreme Court held that the district court (1) erred in dismissing the intentional interference with inheritance claim; (2) did not err by not assigning the estate's claims to the children; and (3) erred in granting the motion in limine. View "In re Estate of D.A. Osguthorpe, D.V.M." on Justia Law

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A Mississippi chancery court order set aside the probate of a will after the original was lost. On appeal, Michael Taylor, the sole beneficiary under the lost will, contended that the chancellor erred by applying the presumption that the testatrix had destroyed the will. “Without the entry of a Rule 54(b) certificate, a trial court order which disposes of less than all of the claims against all of the parties in a multiple party or multiple claim action, is interlocutory.” The Mississippi Supreme Court determined the order appealed from was not a final judgment, thus it lacked jurisdiction to consider Taylor's appeal. The appeal was dismissed. View "Taylor v. Tolbert" on Justia Law

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Linda and her husband Milton set up an estate plan with the help of attorney Roth. Milton created a trust and designated himself as sole trustee. Upon his death, Linda and his accountant, Sanders, would become cotrustees. Milton’s assets included a $1.5 million Vanguard account. Milton later changed the Vanguard account and other accounts to transfer on death directly to Linda as the sole primary beneficiary. Milton died in 2016. Linda believed that Roth was still her attorney. Roth and Sanders convinced Linda to waive her rights as co-trustee and to disclaim her interest in the Vanguard account; they suggested that she had acquired these interests through wrongdoing. Roth then transferred the disclaimed Vanguard account directly to Milton’s son, David, instead of to the trust. David sued Linda and obtained an Indiana state court judgment that she exerted undue influence on Milton and that the trust was the proper owner of certain assets Milton had transferred to Linda.Linda sued in federal court, asserting fraud, conspiracy, and malpractice against Roth and Sanders, claiming the two “duped” her into disclaiming certain assets and that Roth committed malpractice by transferring the account to David rather than the trust. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit; issue preclusion based on the Indiana judgment foreclosed Linda’s claims because the Indiana jury’s finding of undue influence showed that Roth and Sanders’s advice to disclaim her illegally-obtained interests was neither negligent nor fraudulent. View "Bergal v. Roth" on Justia Law