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A husband died, naming his niece and nephew as beneficiaries to his Individual Retirement Account, rather than his wife. The wife declaratory judgment action, arguing that the beneficiary designation should be declared void under 14 V.S.A. 321 and that the IRA funds should pass through husband’s estate. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, concluding for several reasons that wife was not entitled to relief under section 321. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that section 321 did not apply here because wife took under husband’s will rather than electing her statutory share of his estate. View "Hayes v. Hayes" on Justia Law

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The estate of Ray Wendell Williams appeals a circuit court judgment ordering it to make a monthly payment of $1,000 to Williams's daughter Kimberly Loveless pursuant to a provision in Williams's will directing WTW Enterprises, Inc. ("WTW"), a trucking business operated by Williams before his death, to commence paying Loveless a monthly salary of "no less than $1,000" upon his death. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed this appeal, finding: a party petitioned the probate court to transfer the administration of an estate to the circuit court; the probate court granted that petition and took action purporting to transfer administration of the estate to the circuit court; and the circuit court thereafter took over administration of the estate without entering an order of its own authorizing the removal. Such a transfer is improper, and the circuit court never properly acquired subject-matter jurisdiction over the administration of Williams's estate. Accordingly, all actions the circuit court purported to take in this case –– including the judgment the estate has appealed concerning the validity of the directive in Williams's will requiring WTW to pay Loveless a $1,000 monthly salary –– were void due to the lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Estate of Ray Wendell Williams v. Kimberly Loveless" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court declining to enforce a no-contest clause of a 1972 Trust against Respondent, a trustee-beneficiary, holding that a trust beneficiary does not forfeit interest in the trust’s assets pursuant to a no-contest clause penalty by breaching her fiduciary duties while acting in her dual capacity as trustee. The district court found that Respondent violated her fiduciary duties as trustee of the 1972 Trust but determined that her acts as trustee did not warrant imposition of the Trust’s no-contest clause to revoke her beneficiary status. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that no-contest clauses do not apply to foreclosure beneficiary interests when the beneficiary, acting in a trustee capacity, breaches her fiduciary duty. View "Montoya v. Ahern" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's dismissal of a petition under Probate Code section 17200 to set aside certain amendments and declare effective the 16th amendment to the Maynord 1986 Family Trust. The court held that appellant was a former beneficiary that lacked standing to petition for relief under section 17200, where the plain language of section 17200 demonstrates that only beneficiaries and trustees of the current trust version have standing to petition for review of the internal affairs of that trust. The court also held that the conclusion in Drake v. Pinkham (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 400, that a living but incompetent settlor was not a bar to a beneficiary's lawsuit did not demonstrate that a former beneficiary challenging the latest version of a trust was entitled to proceed because of their status in the last allegedly valid former trust document. View "Barefoot v. Jennings" on Justia Law

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The Circuit Court transferred to the New Hampshire Supreme Court without ruling on a question of whether RSA 564-B:1-112 (Supp. 2017) (amended 2018), which addressed rules of construction for trusts, incorporated the pretermitted heir statute, RSA 551:10 (2007), as a rule of construction applicable to trusts. The Supreme Court accepted the transfer, and answered the question in the negative. View "In re Teresa E. Craig Living Trust" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved the South Carolina Home Builders Self Insurers Fund (Fund), which was created by the Home Builders Association of South Carolina, Inc. "for the purpose of meeting and fulfilling an employer's obligations and liabilities under the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act." The dispute arose after the Fund's Board of Trustees announced plans to wind down the Fund and use the Fund's remaining assets to finance a new mutual insurance company. Petitioners, who were members of the Fund, disagreed with that decision and challenged the Board's authority to use the Fund's assets in such a way. The trial court twice dismissed Petitioners' suit, first on the basis that it involved the internal affairs of a trust and therefore should have been filed in probate court, then in a subsequent proceeding, on the basis that the lawsuit was a shareholder derivative action and that the complaint failed to comply with the pleading requirements of Rule 23(b)(1), SCRCP. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of Petitioners' complaint, finding the trial court properly concluded (1) the Fund was not a trust; (2) Petitioners' claims were derivative in nature; and (3) that Petitioners' complaint was properly dismissed as it did not properly allege a pre-suit demand as required by Rule 23(b)(1). The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding Petitioners satisfied the pleading requirements of Rule 23(b)(1), irrespective of whether the Fund was properly characterized as a trust. View "Patterson v. Witter" on Justia Law

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Following mediation, a trust beneficiary and a trustee signed a document purporting to settle a bitter family litigation and referring future disputes to the mediator for resolution. The beneficiary subsequently denied that she settled and asked the mediator to resolve the issue, but the mediator concluded that the parties had reached a binding settlement. The beneficiary tried to resurrect this issue in the superior court, but the court concluded that the mediator’s decision was within the scope of the authority conferred by the parties. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err by confirming the mediator’s decision. Furthermore, the court did not err by denying the beneficiary’s petition to review the trustee’s compensation, or by awarding Alaska Civil Rule 82 attorney’s fees to the trustee. View "Lee v. Sheldon" on Justia Law

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McKnight, a bartender, became friends with Fewlas. McKnight rented an apartment in his duplex. For 17 years, McKnight lived in this upstairs apartment with her boyfriend, Kurt. Fewlas and McKnight did not always get along. Fewlas disliked Kurt. Fewlas died, having accumulated more than $2.2 million. McKnight went on a spending spree. She withdrew over $600,000 in 171 different transactions—all in amounts less than $10,000. This suspicious conduct got the IRS’s attention; the IRS suspected that Fewlas had not left his estate to McKnight. Kurt confessed that he had forged Fewlas’s signature on a fake will, prepared by attorney Pioch. His confession resulted in multiple convictions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, rejecting a Confrontation Clause claim based on the admission of Kurt’s videotaped deposition testimony. Kurt was 76 years old, in poor health, and unable to travel at the time of trial. The court also upheld the admission of testimony concerning handwriting analysis. The court remanded for reconsideration of a motion for a new trial because the court conflated the rules, repeatedly characterizing its task as evaluating the sufficiency of the evidence, rather than weighing the evidence for itself. The court vacated the sentences: the court enhanced sentencing ranges after concluding that the defendants caused financial hardship to the putative beneficiary of Fewlas’s estate but the Guidelines did not contain that enhancement at the time of the misconduct. View "United States v. Pioch" on Justia Law

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Appellants Brian O'Connor and Astrid O'Connor Bassett appealed from orders: (1) declaring decedent John O'Connor's power of appointment exercised in his will complied with the requirements of Probate Code1 section 632; and (2) for probate of his will. The Court of Appeal concluded the language of decedent's will contained enough detail to discern his conscious exercise of the particular power of appointment granted to him, and thus complied with the requirements of both the granting instrument and section 632 that he make a specific reference to the power of appointment. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the orders. View "Estate of O'Connor" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s entry of judgment as a matter of law in favor of Defendants, corporate entities and individuals, at the close of Plaintiff’s case-in-chief in the bench trial held on her claims, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. On the scheduled day for trial, the district court noted that Plaintiff’s claims were “not entirely clear” but understood them to constitute a derivative action seeking forced dissolution of the corporations. Plaintiff’s evidence in support of her case focused primarily on allegations of corporate records mismanagement. At the close of Plaintiff’s case-in-chief, the district court granted judgment as a matter of law for Defendants. The court then granted an individual defendant attorney fees pursuant to the equity exception to the American Rule. The Supreme Court affirmed and granted Defendants’ request to declare Plaintiff a vexatious litigant, holding (1) the district court did not err in granting judgment in favor of Defendants; (2) the district court did not err in granting attorney fees; (3) Plaintiff was not denied a fair trial; and (4) the district court did not abuse its discretion in the administration of the trial. View "McCann v. McCann" on Justia Law