Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

by
Respondent Ryanne Earley appealed a final divorce decree awarding petitioner Wm. Michael Earley part of her interest in an irrevocable life insurance trust established by her parents. She argued the trial court erred by classifying her interest in the trust as marital property subject to equitable division under RSA 458:16-a (Supp. 2020). Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court’s decision was contrary to RSA 564-B:5-502 (2019), it reversed in part, vacated the remainder of the property division determination, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In the Matter of Wm. & Ryanne Earley" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's award of attorney fees to the Trust after the Trust successfully enforced the terms of a conservation easement. In this case, defendants owned land that is the subject of a conservation easement granted by previous owners in favor of the Trust and they intentionally violated the easement.The court rejected defendants' argument that, because the Trust's insurance policy covered its fees up to $500,000, the trial court was required to deduct that amount from the lodestar. Rather, the court concluded that the trial court was not required to reduce defendants' liability for attorney fees simply because the Trust had the foresight to purchase insurance. In any event, the court noted that the Trust will not receive a double recovery because, under the insurance policy, it must reimburse the insurer from any damage award. The court also rejected defendants' other challenges, concluding that the number of hours was not excessive; the lodestar was not disproportionate to the public benefit; and the trial court did not abuse its discretion by adding a fee enhancement. View "The Sonoma Land Trust v. Thompson" on Justia Law

by
Wife Becky Baldauf, in both her personal capacity and as administrator of her deceased husband’s estate, appealed the superior court’s order dismissing her claims against the Vermont State Treasurer and the Vermont State Employees’ Retirement System (VSERS) (collectively, the State). Wife argued she was entitled to receive a retirement allowance on account of her husband’s death while in active service under 3 V.S.A. 465. She also argued the State failed to adequately inform husband about his retirement allowance before his death, and accordingly, husband’s estate was entitled to relief under breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligent misrepresentation theories. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded Wife failed to state claims for which relief can be granted, and affirmed. View "Estate of Ronald Baldauf v. Vermont State Treasurer et al." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming a probate court ruling that a restriction on the transfer of devise property was a restraint on alienation and void, holding that the provision was a prohibited restraint on alienation and void.The testamentary provision in this case restricted the beneficiaries from selling or transferring the devised property outside their immediate family for a period of twenty years following the testator's death. The district court ultimately held that the restriction on the property was an invalid restraint on alienation and void. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the restriction was a restraint on alienation and that reasonable restraints on alienation are not allowed under Iowa law. View "Estate of Vera E. Cawiezell v. Coronelli" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the ruling of the district court finding that an amended pleading by the Estate of Francis O. Glaser related back to its original pleading and therefore permitted an additional conveyance to be set aside after the statute of limitations had lapsed, holding that the district court erred in concluding that the late amendment related back to the date of the original motion.The Estate in this case attempted to void a predate transfer of farm property by Glaser to a friend. In order to do so, at the close of the evidence, the Estate filed a motion to amend the original motion to set aside property conveyances that failed to mention the farm property. The district court permitted the late amendment and found that the amendment related back to the filing of the original motion. Therefore, the court concluded that the claim was not barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that the challenged conveyances should be set aside. The Supreme Court held, like the court of appeals, that the late claim to set aside the farm property was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. View "Kindsfather v. Bowling" on Justia Law

by
Two cases were consolidated for review. In the first, Amanda Boyd and George Ben Ratcliff Jr. (George Ben Jr.) filed a complaint challenging an inter vivos gift of real property to Patricia Smith, which ended in the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Smith. Boyd and George Ben Jr. appeal the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in Smith’s favor. In the second, the trial court granted summary judgment to Patricia Smith in a will contest filed by Boyd and her brother George Ben Jr. The trial court granted summary judgment pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 91-7-23 (Rev. 2018), which provides a two- year statute of limitations to contest a probated will. Finding no reversible error in either case, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court. View "Boyd v. Smith" on Justia Law

by
Appellant William Pullen appealed the family court’s denial of his Family Code section 2030 motion to compel respondent Windham Bremer, the trustee of the Elizabeth Anne Wendt Trust, to pay his attorney fees stemming from his successful motion to join the trustee as a third party to the dissolution action involving Pullen and his ex-wife Elizabeth Anne Wendt. Pullen contended the family court’s ruling was an abuse of discretion as it was based on legal error, and that it effectively precluded him from further litigating the matter. Bremer counters that under California law, a trustee could not be compelled to disburse money absent a showing of bad faith. He argued that Pullen’s claim was subject to Probate Code restrictions on claims against spendthrift trusts. He also claims that payment was barred under Indiana and Illinois law, and that appellant’s underlying claim was specious. The California Court of Appeal surmised the question presented involved the administration of the trust rather than interpreting its terms, Indiana law might apply, and Illinois law was inapplicable. "However, choice of law is immaterial as both Indiana and California follow the modern interpretation regarding the liability of trusts and trustees to third parties. This modern approach allows third parties to obtain relief from the trust for matters arising out of the trust’s administration, and is not limited by spendthrift provisions." The Court found section 2030 provided for the award of attorney fees against parties other than spouses, like the trustee. Since the award of attorney fees stemmed from the administration of the trust and did not involve a claim against the beneficiary, payment from a spendthrift trust was not contingent on the bad faith of the trustee. It was an abuse of discretion for the family court to make the award of fees contingent on such a showing and its judgment was reversed and remanded for additional proceedings. View "Marriage of Wendt and Pullen" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff John Dunlap was the executor of the New York estate (Estate) of Josephine Mayer, who passed away in 2016. Josephine was the lifetime beneficiary of a testamentary trust (Marital Trust) established by Josephine’s husband, Erwin Mayer. The Estate petitioned the trustee of the Marital Trust, defendant Maria Mayer, for an accounting. Maria objected to the petition, alleging that she was never a trustee of the Marital Trust and that she never had possession or control of the assets of the trust. The court dismissed the petition at a case management conference, without an evidentiary hearing to resolve the contested facts. The Court of Appeal concluded the court abused its discretion in doing so, and therefore reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dunlap v. Mayer" on Justia Law

by
Two defendants in a wrongful death suit settled with the decedent’s estate, resulting in a recovery for her minor child’s benefit. The estate’s attorney received payment from the settlement, but the remaining funds were reserved against potential fee awards to the remaining defendants should they prevail in the ongoing litigation. The estate appealed, arguing the remainder of the funds should have been immediately disbursed for the child’s benefit. The non-settling defendants cross-appealed, arguing that the entire settlement fund should have been reserved for their recoverable costs and fees. Because the prevailing defendants would have no other source from which to recover expenses, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s reservation of settlement funds. But because the Supreme Court construed the common fund doctrine to apply, it also affirmed the court’s distribution of the estate’s attorney’s fees and costs. View "Doan v. Banner Health Inc., et al." on Justia Law

by
Terry Weems, as the personal representative of the estate of Terry Sutherland ("Terry"), deceased, the proponent of what was purported to be the will of Terry's mother, Gladys Elizabeth Stidham Sutherland ("Elizabeth"), appealed a probate court judgment entered in favor of Terry's siblings, Angela Long and Gary Sutherland, who contested that purported will. Elizabeth died in 2016. Angela petitioned to admit to probate a will her mother executed in 2002 which divided Elizabeth's property equally among her three children. The 2002 will named Angela as the executor of the estate. Shortly thereafter, Terry petitioned the probate court to enter an order admitting a different will to probate that, he said, Elizabeth had executed in 2013 ("the 2013 will"); he also requested that the probate court issue letters testamentary to him as the executor of Elizabeth's estate. That will revoked "all prior wills and codicils" and named Terry as the executor of the estate. In August 2016, Angela petitioned the circuit court to remove the "administration" of Elizabeth's estate from probate court. In October 2017, after determining that its jurisdiction had not been properly invoked, the circuit court issued an order remanding the proceedings relating to Elizabeth's estate back to the probate court. Thereafter, the probate court entered an order acknowledging receipt of the proceedings from the circuit court. In September 2018, Terry died and Terry Weems was appointed to be the personal representative of his estate. At the time of Terry's death, neither the 2002 will nor the 2013 will had been admitted to probate and letters testamentary had not been issued. In 2019, the probate court received testimony and evidence from the parties, and issued an order finding that the procurement and execution of the 2013 will was unduly influenced by Terry. It also admitted the 2002 will to probate and issued letters testamentary to Angela. Thereafter, Weems appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, finding that the probate court was required to transfer the contest after a demand to transfer was made; without it, the court had no jurisdiction to hold a hearing or to issue its order. Because the probate court lacked jurisdiction in this case, its judgment was void. View "Weems v. Long et al." on Justia Law