Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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Appellants sued Respondents over alleged self-dealing and other purported breaches of fiduciary duty in the administration of a trust. Respondents argued that proceedings in Idaho were improper under the provisions of Title 15, chapter 7 of the Idaho Code (the “trust code”) because they alleged that the principal place of the Trust’s administration was in Indiana. The district court agreed and dismissed Appellants’ complaint. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court erred in granting the motion to dismiss. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Allen v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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After a woman died and left a will disposing of several parcels of real property and two trailers, her ex-husband — with whom she had maintained a romantic relationship following divorce — filed claims against the woman’s estate for those properties. He contended the decedent had transferred title to three of those parcels to him. He also claimed that they made an agreement about two parcels and the trailer that sat on them: he and the decedent would live there until their deaths, after which the properties would be sold and the proceeds given solely to their great-grandchild. The estate rejected these claims, invoking the statute of frauds. The superior court ruled in favor of the estate, finding that the ex-husband failed to prove the existence of contracts satisfying the statute of frauds and rejecting his alternative claims for restitution. On appeal, the ex-husband argued the proceedings were marred by procedural flaws, and challenged the superior court’s decision on the merits. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court largely affirmed the superior court’s decision, but remanded for further proceedings on the restitution claim involving one parcel. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Alexina Rodman" on Justia Law

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Henry H. Behle IV appealed the grant of summary judgment and award of attorney’s fees in favor of Darren Harr as personal representative of the Estate of Henry L. Behle. Behle filed a petition asking the district court to determine the validity of the decedent’s will and convert the administration to a formal probate. Harr, as personal representative of the Estate, objected to Behle’s petition and moved for summary judgment. Behle argued the probate application was defective because an electronic copy of the decedent’s will was filed with the district court rather than the original. Behle also claimed Harr asserted undue influence over the decedent. The district court granted Harr’s motion for summary judgment and allowed the probate to proceed informally. Harr thereafter moved for an award of attorney's fees. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded Behle’s contentions only amounted to suspicion; viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Behle, no genuine issue of material fact existed regarding undue influence. Therefore, the Court concluded the district court did not err in granting summary judgment. However, the Supreme Court found the district court erred in ordering Behle to pay attorney's fees: the district court did not analyze whether the allegations in Behle’s petition were made in good faith when it awarded attorney’s fees under N.D.C.C. 28-26-31. Instead, the district court focused on Behle’s arguments made in opposition to summary judgment. "The plain words of the statute pertain only to pleadings and not to motions or other documents. Accordingly, the district court abused its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees under N.D.C.C. 28-26-31." View "Estate of Behle" on Justia Law

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Michael J. Tharaldson executed an “Irrevocable Trust Agreement” on February 14, 2007. The trust named State Bank & Trust (now known as Bell Bank), as trustee. On October 3, 2011, Tharaldson executed an “Irrevocable Trust Agreement II” and merged assets from the first trust into the second trust. Tharaldson died intestate on December 11, 2017. On June 28, 2019, Bell Bank filed a petition seeking the district court’s determination of trust beneficiaries and approval of asset distribution. Bell Bank claimed the sole beneficiary was Tharaldson’s brother, Matthew Tharaldson. Tharaldson had three biological children. Bell Bank mailed its petition, proposed order, and notice of hearing to the two adult children. Bell Bank sent the documents via email to the attorney representing Tharaldson’s minor child, E.M., in the separate probate action. E.M. challenged the court's jurisdiction after it ultimately granted Bell Bank's petition to distribute the trust assets. The district court found the language of the trust was not ambiguous, Tharaldson died intestate, and Matthew Tharaldson was the sole beneficiary of the trust, entitling him to distribution of all trust assets. E.M. argued on appeal that the district court erred in granting Bell Bank’s petition. He claimed the merger of assets from the first trust to the second trust was invalid. E.M. also claimed the trust designated E.M. and his siblings as the only beneficiaries, entitling them to share in the trust assets, and entitling E.M. to recover attorney’s fees. Bell Bank and Matthew Tharaldson argued collateral estoppel barred relitigation of E.M.’s claims in this case because of the district court’s findings about E.M.’s status as an heir in the Tharaldson probate case. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court’s order denying E.M.’s demand for change of judge should have been granted, making the assigned judge's actions with respect to the merits of E.M.'s claims invalid. This case was remanded for assignment of a new judge and for proceedings anew on the merits of the petition. View "Matter of Michael J. Tharaldson Trust" on Justia Law

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In 2001, Lavastone Capital LLC (Lavastone) entered into an agreement with Coventry First LLC (Coventry) to purchase “life settlements” – life-insurance policies sold on the secondary market. One was that of Beverly Berland. Lincoln Financial (Lincoln) issued the policy to Berland in 2006. But Berland did not act alone in acquiring it. A few months before, she approached a business called “Simba.” As Simba pitched it, the transaction allowed clients to “create dollars today by using a paper asset, (a life insurance policy not yet issued from a major insurance carrier insuring your life)” by selling it on the secondary market. Clients did not need to put up any money upfront. Instead, they got nonrecourse loans to finance the transactions, which allowed them to make all necessary payments without tapping into personal funds. The only collateral for the loan was the life-insurance policy itself. Berland agreed to participate in several transactions with Simba, profiting greatly. Lavastone kept the policy in force, paying all relevant premiums to Lincoln Financial. Upon Berland’s death more than seven years later, Lincoln paid Lavastone $5,041,032.06 in death benefits under the policy. In December 2018, Berland’s estate filed a complaint against Lavastone in the District Court, seeking to recover the death benefits that Lavastone received under 18 Del C. 2704(b). In 2020, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In 2021, the District Court certified the three questions of law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The Supreme Court responded: (1) a death-benefit payment made on a policy that is void ab initio under 18 Del. C. 2704(a) and PHL Variable Insurance Co. v. Price Dawe 2006 Insurance Trust was made “under [a] contract” within the meaning of 18 Del. C. 2704(b); (2) so long as the use of nonrecourse funding did not allow the insured or his or her trust to obtain the policy “without actually paying the premiums” and the insured or his or her trust procured or effected the policy in good faith, for a lawful insurance purpose, and not as a cover for a wagering contract; and (3) an estate could profit under 18 Del. C. 2704(b) where the policy was procured in part by fraud on the part of the decedent and the decedent profited from the previous sale of the policy, if the recipient of the policy benefits cannot establish that it was a victim of the fraud. View "Lavastone Capital LLC v. Estate of Beverly E. Berland" on Justia Law

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An apprentice electrician, who was unmarried and had no dependents, was working for a construction project subcontractor when she died in an accident. Her direct employer paid funeral benefits required by the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act; no other benefits were required under the Act. The employee’s estate brought a wrongful death action against the general contractor and the building owner; they moved to dismiss the action based on the Act’s exclusive liability provisions, which were expanded in 2004 to include contractors and project owners. The estate moved for summary judgment, arguing that the 2004 exclusive liability expansion violated due process because it left the estate without an effective remedy. The court rejected the estate’s argument and dismissed the wrongful death action, entering judgment against the estate. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s judgment. View "Burke v. Criterion General Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Mary and James Nelson, a married couple with daughters, formed Longspar limited partnership in 2008; each had a 0.5% general partner interest. The limited partners were Mary and trusts that had been established for their daughters. The Nelsons also formed a trust in 2008. Mary was the settlor, James was the trustee. James and the daughters were the beneficiaries. In 2008-2009, Mary transferred her Longspar limited partner interests to the trust in a gift (valued at $2,096,000.00) and then a sale for $20,000,000. An accountant valued a 1% Longspar limited partner interest at $341,000. The Nelsons used that value to convert the dollar values in the transfer agreements to percentages of limited partner interests—6.14% for the gift and 58.65% for the sale. Those percentages were then listed on Longspar’s records, included in Longspar’s amended partnership agreement, and listed on the Nelsons’ gift tax returns.The IRS audited the Nelsons’ tax returns. The Nelsons amended their records and reallocated previous distributions. The Commissioner issued Notices of Deficiency listing $611,708 in gift tax for 2008 and $6,123,168 for 2009. The Tax Court found that the proper valuation of a 1% Longspar limited partner interest was $411,235; the transfer documents' language was not a valid formula clause that could support reallocation; Mary had transferred the percentage of interests that the appraiser had determined to have the values stated in the transfer documents; those percentages were fixed once the appraisal was completed. The Fifth Circuit affirmed; the Nelsons each owed $87,942 in gift tax for 2008 and $920,340 for 2009. View "Nelson v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioner's appeal from an order entered by the Marion County Commission declaring the holographic will of Oras Dye to be void and rescinding Petitioner's appointment as the executor of the Estate of Oras Dye, holding that the circuit court erred.On appeal, Petitioner argued that the fiduciary supervisor and the county commission lacked statutory authority investigate the validity of the will and unilaterally to declare it void after the will had been admitted to probate. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) the judiciary supervisor lacked authority to investigate the validity of the will, which had already been admitted to probate; and (2) the county commission lacked authority to revoke the will's prior admission to probate. View "Dye v. County Commission of Marion County" on Justia Law

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Henry H. Behle IV appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Darren Harr as the personal representative of the Estate of Henry L. Behle. The district court held Behle’s claims against the Estate concerning two parcels of real estate were untimely under N.D.C.C. 30.1-19-03(2), which barred certain claims that were not brought within three months of a decedent’s death. The court also held Behle’s claim to personal property was barred by the six-year statute of limitations for conversion under N.D.C.C. 28-01-16. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Behle v. Harr" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the order and judgment of the circuit court enforcing a settlement agreement, holding that the Statute of Frauds was applicable in this case.After a dispute over an alleged forgery in a will, the parties reached a mediation agreement as to certain property. The trial court adopted the mediation agreement as part of its judgment and ordered it to be enforced. The court of appeals appealed, ruling that the Statute of Frauds was not applicable. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Statute of Frauds was applicable, barring enforcement of the agreement. View "Adamson v. Adamson" on Justia Law