Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

by
These consolidated appeals involved the Frederick Tildon Skelton, Jr., Family Trust ("the trust") and its primary asset, shares of stock in South Haven Corporation ("South Haven"). In appeal no. 1190700, Frederick Tildon Skelton IV and Brian Rutledge Skelton challenged the May 4, 2020 probate court judgment terminating the trust. In appeal no. 1190917, those same parties challenged the July 17, 2020 circuit court judgment dismissing their claims relating to the administration of the trust and their derivative claims asserted on behalf of South Haven. After Mrs. Skelton died, Brian Lee, who was serving as South Haven's president at the time, became the successor trustee of the trust. However, Brian Lee died in July 2016, before fully discharging his duties as trustee by dividing the trust property and making a final distribution of the trust corpus to the remainder beneficiaries of the trust. Brian Lee's widow, Evangela Taylor Skelton ("Angel"), was appointed as the personal representative of Brian Lee's estate. After Brian Lee's death, there was no acting trustee, but it was undisputed that the remainder beneficiaries of the trust were: Brian Lee's estate, Joshua, the nephews, and Loree (referred to collectively as "the beneficiaries"). In September 2016, Loree, individually and on behalf of South Haven, commenced an action in the circuit court against Angel, individually and in her capacity as the personal representative of Brian Lee's estate ("the circuit-court action"). In that action, Loree alleged that Brian Lee, while an officer, director, and shareholder of South Haven, and Angel had misappropriated South Haven's assets for their personal benefit to the detriment of the other shareholders or putative shareholders of the corporation. The nephews filed a motion to intervene in the circuit-court action to assert claims on behalf of South Haven against Loree and Angel; the nephews asserted that both Brian and Loree misappropriated South Haven's assets for their personal benefit to the detriment of the other shareholders or putative shareholders of the corporation. Following mediation, Loree, Joshua, and Angel, individually and as personal representative of Brian Lee's estate, reached a proposed settlement. The nephews opposed that settlement, however; thus, it was never finalized. In November 2017, the nephews, as beneficiaries of the trust, filed a petition in the probate-court action, asserting various claims and counterclaims and seeking affirmative relief relating to the administration of the trust. The Alabama Supreme Court found the probate court was justified in terminating the trust and the circuit court was the appropriate venue to litigate all remaining claims, including the nephews' trust claims. View "Skelton v. Skelton" on Justia Law

by
Employer-appointed trustees filed a complaint in the district court seeking the appointment of an impartial umpire to resolve a deadlock on a motion, pursuant to Section 302(c)(5) of the Labor Management Relations Act, brought by one of the employer-appointed trustees. The district court dismissed the complaint and declined to appoint an umpire.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that, based on the entirety of the Trust Agreement, the delegation proposed by the employer trustees' motion is beyond the trustees' authority to implement. The court explained that because the proposed delegation and amendment to the Trust Agreement are beyond the trustees' authority to implement, the deadlocked motion is not a matter arising in connection with the administration of the plan or a matter within the trustees' jurisdiction. Therefore, the Trust Agreement does not authorize the appointment of a neutral umpire to resolve the deadlocked motion. Furthermore, because the court found that adopting the employer trustees' proposed motion would require amending the Trust Agreement, the court also necessarily concluded that the deadlocked motion does not concern trust fund "administration" under section 302(c)(5). Accordingly, the deadlocked motion is not a matter of trust "administration" under either the Trust Agreement or section 302(c)(5), and thus the district court did not err in declining to appoint an umpire. View "Gillick v. Elliott" on Justia Law

by
A series of appeals arose from a will-contest dispute between siblings. After their mother died, William C. Harper and Alice Lynn Harper Taylor disagreed about which version of their mother's will governed the disposition of her assets. After a purported transfer of the will contests from probate court to circuit court, the siblings submitted their dispute to a jury, which returned a verdict for Alice Lynn. William appealed and Alice Lynn cross-appealed. Because jurisdiction never properly vested in the circuit court, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed these appeals. View "Harper-Taylor. v. Harper." on Justia Law

by
In this lawsuit to set aside a will the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court for Plaintiffs on their undue influence claim and dismissing their tortious interference with inheritance claim, holding that there was no error.Shortly after the decedent died, Plaintiffs brought this action seeking to set aside the decedent's will. Their petition alleged several causes of action against Defendants, including undue influence and tortious interference with inheritance. The district court dismissed the tortious interference with inheritance claim. Later, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs on the undue influence claim. Both sides appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly held that Plaintiffs needed to prove Defendants' knowledge of Plaintiffs' expectancy of an inheritance from the decedent; and (2) the district court did not admit improper hearsay evidence, and Plaintiffs' lawyer did not make prejudicial statements during closing argument. View "Buboltz v. Birusingh" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the probate court finding that an $875,000 charitable bequest to a nursing home facility lapsed and ordering the funds to be distributed to the residuary of the estate, holding that the bequest did not lapse.In the decedent's will, the decedent bequeathed the sum of $875,000 to Hamilton Manor, a nursing home facility in Aurora, Nebraska, owned by Hamilton County and operated through the Hamilton Manor Board of Trustees. Plaintiff, as personal representative, asked that the court find the charitable bequest had failed and order the proceeds to be administered as part of the residue of the estate. The court found that the bequest to Hamilton Manor had lapsed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the probate court erred in finding that the gift to Hamilton Manor had lapsed. View "In re Estate of Akerson" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Appellants' motion to intervene in this wrongful death action, holding that heirs of the decedent cannot intervene in a wrongful death action brought by the wrongful death representative.Carrie Linn died after undergoing elective surgery. Carrie's niece, Kallista Mills, was appointed Carrie's wrongful death representative. Mills brought this wrongful death action against Charles Linn, Carrie's husband, alleging that he had negligently caused Carrie's death. One year later, Mills signed a release releasing Charles from all causes asserted against him. Mills and Charles then filed a stipulated motion to dismiss the wrongful death action with prejudice. After the execution of the release but before the filing of the stipulated motion to dismiss, Appellants - Carrie's daughters - filed a motion to intervene in the wrongful death action. Because Appellants did not timely serve counsel the motion, the court dismissed the action with prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that beneficiaries, unless appointed as the wrongful death representative, are precluded from intervening in wrongful death actions. View "Archer v. Mills" on Justia Law

by
In 2007, plaintiffs-respondents Jason Rubin and Cira Ross, as cotrustees of the Cira Ross Qualified Domestic Trust (judgment creditors) obtained a civil judgment against defendant-appellant David Ross (judgment debtor). In 2009, Ross filed for voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In April 2019, following an order denying judgment debtor a discharge in bankruptcy, judgment creditors filed for renewal of their judgment pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure sections 683.120 and 683.130. Ross moved to vacate the judgment on the ground that judgment creditors failed to seek renewal within the 10-year time period proscribed in Code of Civil Procedure section 683.130. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that judgment creditor’s renewal was timely because title 11 United States Code section 108(c) provided for an extension of time within which to seek renewal. Ross appealed, arguing that judgment creditors were not precluded from seeking renewal by his bankruptcy proceeding and, therefore, section 108(c) 2 did not apply to provide an extension of time to seek renewal of their judgment. The Court of Appeal agreed that judgment creditors were not barred from seeking statutory renewal of their judgment during the pendency of judgment debtor’s bankruptcy proceeding, but concluded that the extension provided for in section 108(c) applied regardless. Thus, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order. View "Rubin v. Ross" on Justia Law

by
K.S. appealed a district court order approving the sale of S.M.H.’s interest in real property and striking from the court record an affidavit filed by K.S. K.S. argued the court erred by determining that a document K.S. claimed transferred a majority of S.M.H.’s interest in the real property to K.S. failed to meet the statutory requirements for a valid conveyance under N.D.C.C. sections 47-10-01 and 47-10-05; the court erred in striking her affidavit from the record; and the court erred in awarding attorney’s fees to Lutheran Social Services. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Guardianship and Conservatorship of S.M.H." on Justia Law

by
Respondent-appellee Billie Dixon moved to dismiss petitioner-appellant John Dixon’s appeal due to mootness and lack of jurisdiction because the appeal was taken without a N.D.R.Civ.P. 54(b) certification. This action started in October 2013 when John sought an accounting of the Shirley A. Dixon Revocable Trust, removal of Billie as trustee, court supervised administration of the trust, reimbursement of the trust for unauthorized distributions, and his attorney fees expended in the action. After trial on remand the district court granted John’s request for supervised administration of the trust and denied the remaining requests for relief. On December 11, 2020, Billie filed a Petition for Order Allowing Trustee to Make Final Distribution and Allowing Termination of the Trust. On December 28, 2020, John filed objections to the petition, and on the same day the court granted Billie’s petition. On February 26, 2021, John appealed the district court’s order granting the petition. On April 12, 2021, Billie moved to dismiss the appeal. On April 24, 2021, the district court granted Billie’s motion for stay, ordering “that its Order Allowing Trustee to Make Final Distribution and Allowing Termination of the Trust (Doc. ID# 239), and any attempts to enforce that Order, are hereby stayed, effective March 29, 2021, pending completion of the appeal in this matter filed by Petitioner John W. Dixon.” Thereafter, Billie moved to dismiss this appeal as moot and for lack of N.D.R.Civ.P. 54(b) certification. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the latter issue was dispositive: the Supreme Court was without jurisdiction to adjudicate the appeal because the trust was court-supervised, and the last order was not final as to all matters relating to the trust. View "Dixon v. Dixon" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court in these appeals regarding two brothers' disputes concerning the administration of their deceased mother's estate, holding that the circuit court did not err in removing both brother from their fiduciary roles and replacing them with a disinterested third party.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in removing the brothers as co-executors on the basis that the brothers were, to the detriment of the estate, deadlocked concerning the administration of the estate; (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying the brothers compensation, legal fees, and costs; and (3) there was no reversible error regarding the presence of a third brother in the courtroom during the trial. View "Galiotos v. Galiotos" on Justia Law