Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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This case involved a contentious family dispute over the effect of an in terrorem clause in a trust instrument that was executed by David Slosberg (“David”), which said that if his son, Robert Slosberg (“Plaintiff”), or daughters, Suzanne Giller and Lynne Amy Seidner (“Defendants”), challenged the trust, they would forfeit any benefits they were to receive from it. After David died, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that Defendants unduly influenced David to create the trust that contained the in terrorem clause, and at a trial in June 2019, the jury agreed. The trial court accordingly entered an order ruling that the trust instrument was void. Defendants moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, arguing, among other things, that the in terrorem clause contained in the trust instrument precluded Plaintiff from asserting the undue-influence claim in the first place. The trial court denied the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the in terrorem clause barred Plaintiff’s claim and resulted in his forfeiture of any benefits from the trust. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred by determining that the in terrorem clause barred Plaintiff’s undue-influence claim and resulted in forfeiture of the assets the trust instrument otherwise provided. That part of the Court of Appeals’ decision was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings at the trial court. View "Slosberg v. Giller, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the superior court judge granting partial summary judgment and separate and final judgment for Plaintiffs in this familial dispute over assets left by Lubov Stempniewicz, the mother and grandmother to the parties to this action, holding that the judgment is reversed with respect to count eight of Plaintiffs' complaint.Plaintiffs initiated this action against their uncle to determine the validity of the Living Trust of Lubov Stempniewicz. Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that their uncle acted without authority in creating the trust, and therefore the trust was void ab initio. The superior court agreed and granted judgment for Plaintiffs. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part, holding that summary judgment was proper as to all counts except count eight, alleging "constructive trust." View "Barbetti v. Stempniewicz" on Justia Law

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The City of Warrior ("Warrior") and the Town of Trafford ("Trafford") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying their motions for a summary judgment in this tort action filed by plaintiff James Griffin, as the personal representative of the estate of James R. Olvey, and to enter a summary judgment in Warrior's and Trafford's favor on the basis of immunity. A Warrior police officer saw a cehicle operated by Donald Wright run a red light. Though the officer tried to stop Wright's vehicle, Wright sped away and the officer pursued. A Trafford officer joined in pursuit. When Wright entered the interstate to avoid the police chase, the officers stopped their pursuit. Approximately three quarters of a mile from where the officers ceased their pursuit, Wright's vehicle collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Olvey in a southbound lane. Olvey died as a result of the collision. When Wright was apprehended at the collision scene, a syringe was found hanging from his right arm. Subsequent testing revealed that, at the time of the collision, he was under the influence of both marijuana and cocaine. Wright was subsequently criminally indicted in connection with Olvey's death. Griffin, as the personal representative of Olvey's estate, later sued, among others, the two officers and their respective Town employers, alleging among other things, that Olvey died as the result of the allegedly unskillful, negligent, and/or wanton conduct of the officers in pursuing Wright while carrying out duties. As to each municipality, Griffin further alleged, based on a theory of respondeat superior, that they were vicariously liable for the purported wrongful conduct of the officers. After review, the Supreme Court determined Warrior and Trafford demonstrated a clear legal right to summary judgment in their favor on the basis of immunity. Accordingly, the trial court was directed to enter a summary judgment in favor of each on Griffin's claims against them. View "Ex parte City of Warrior and Town of Trafford." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the probate court denying the motion for an order to show cause filed by Cynthia Soames, the personal representative of her brother's estate, against Dick Gifford, the estate's previous personal representative, holding that the probate court did not err.In her motion, Soames argued that certain items went missing from the estate while Gifford was personal representative and requesting that Gifford account for those items. The probate court denied the motion after a hearing, thus declining to hold Gifford in contempt, finding that Gifford's testimony was credible and that Soames did not meet her burden of proving that Gifford took and failed to return the items. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court did not err when it determined that Gifford's testimony was credible. View "Soares v. Gifford" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review in this case centered on the six-month time limit set forth in Subsection 2210(b) of Pennsylvania’s Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code. The surviving spouse here timely filed her election to take against the will, but, several years later, petitioned to revoke her election in an attempt to reclaim her testate share. The parties disputed whether a survivor who sought to revoke a statutory election against the will must do so within the six-month period specified in Subsection 2210(b), even though it speaks only to the time for filing the election, not to the revocation of a prior election. The Supreme Court concluded that the widow here was not permitted to revoke her election after the expiration of Section 2210’s six-month time limit. View "In Re: Est. of C. Jabbour" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting a motion to approve a settlement agreement reached in mediation involving siblings Lily Smith and Sam, Dan, and Vernon Lindemulder, holding that Petitioners were not entitled to relief on their claims of error.The agreement at issue resolved claims involving the Alice M. Lindemulder Trust, established by the parties' mother, which held more than 2,000 acres of land in Stillwater County. Sam appealed the district court's decision to approve the settlement agreement, arguing that the agreement was unenforceable because he lacked the capacity to enter it and had been subjected to undue influence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in concluding that Sam validly consented to the agreement; and (2) did not err in holding that the agreement was valid and enforceable. View "Smith v. Lindemulder" on Justia Law

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Appellant Marie Yammine, as former wife and primary beneficiary of a two million dollar life insurance policy issued by Respondent ReliaStar Life Insurance Company to her former husband, Dr. Jean Bernard, appealed a declaratory judgment finding the contingent beneficiary, Appellee Roland Ghoussoub, was entitled to the policy's death benefit. Dr. Bernard died after the trial court granted the parties' divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues. The trial court declared Yammine and Bernard were divorced and that 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) operated to revoke her beneficiary designation to the death benefits. Whether Oklahoma's revocation-upon-divorce statute, 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A), applied when one party dies after the granting of the divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues, was a matter of first impression for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Court concluded Section 178(A) required a final judgment on all issues, and that the trial court erred by interpreting 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) to revoke Yammine's beneficiary designation in Bernard's life insurance policy based on an order granting divorce when the final judgment on all issues remained pending at husband's death. The trial court's declaratory judgment was reversed, and this case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghoussoub v. Yammine" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the decision of the probate court to modify a trust under Texas Trust Code 112.054 but denying the trustee's demand for a jury trial, holding that there is no statutory right to a jury in a section 112.054 judicial trust-modification proceeding.In reversing the probate court, the court of appeals held that the Trust Code conferred a right to a jury trial and that the error in denying the trustee's jury demand was harmful. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred by concluding that the Trust Code's incorporation of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure creates a right to a trial by jury in a section 112.054 judicial trust-modification proceeding. View "In re Troy S. Poe Trust" on Justia Law

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In this challenge to a share issuance the Supreme Court held that the probate court improperly submitted an invalid theory of liability to the jury and that the trial court's charge error probably caused the rendition of an improper judgment.In the weeks before he died, Dick Poe, the sole director of Poe Management, Inc. (PMI), authorized the corporation to issue new shares and then bought the new shares for $3.2 million, making him the majority owner of PMI. Dick's death vested control of the family-owned car-dealership enterprise in the two co-executors of Dick's estate. Richard, Dick's son and PMI's only other shareholder, brought this action challenging the share issuance as a breach of Dick's fiduciary duty. The trial court rendered judgment in favor Richard. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the probate court erred in charging the jury in two respects and that the errors were harmful. View "In re Estate of Poe" on Justia Law

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Born in 1967, Carroll was raised by a single mother near Albert Barber's property. Albert’s younger sister was Arlene. Albert died in 1998. . In 2000, Arlene informed the Geauga County Probate Court that she had lost Albert’s will and possessed only an unsigned copy. She filed an application to probate the will. The court found that all interested parties were given appropriate notice and admitted the will. The court distributed most of the estate— land worth $232,000 and slightly over $30,000 in other assets—to Arlene under the will.Carroll claims that in 2018, Arlene told her that Albert was Carroll’s father. Carrol sued, claiming that Arlene submitted an invalid version of Albert’s will to an Ohio probate court and that she should have inherited Albert’s estate. The district court concluded that she lacked standing and that the probate exception to federal jurisdiction barred it from hearing her claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, citing her lack of standing. Carroll has not plausibly pleaded that the Barbers’ misconduct injured her, that they left her any worse off. Even given an opportunity to contest Albert’s will, Carroll would not have been eligible to contest Albert’s will under Ohio law when he died. View "Carroll v. Hill" on Justia Law