Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's judgment summarily dismissing Petitioners' request that the court declare an original trust and its first amendment valid, holding that the circuit court erred. After the settlor of the trust died, Petitioners filed a petition requesting judicial supervision of the trust under S.D. Codified Laws 21-22-9. Petitioners further requested a declaration of the validity of the original trust and its first amendment, arguing that subsequent amendments were invalid. The circuit court granted a successor trustee's motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that a challenge to the validity of a trust cannot be asserted in a petition for judicial supervision but could only be commenced via service of summons within one year after the settlor's death. The circuit court granted the successor trustee's motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a circuit court may consider the validity of a trust in a petition for judicial supervision, and therefore, Petitioners' petition, which included a request that the circuit court determine the validity of the trust amendments, property commenced a judicial proceeding; and (2) the trust challenge was timely because Petitioners filed their petition within the one-year timeframe after the settlor's death. View "In re Carver Revocable Trust" on Justia Law

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Fred Sande, the personal representative of the Estate of Geraldine Sande, appealed a judgment distributing the estate. Geraldine Sande and her son, Philip Sande, owned Sande Music Company, a partnership. Geraldine owned 55 percent of the partnership and Philip owned the remaining 45 percent. In March 2010, Geraldine and Philip sold the company for $800,000, of which $600,000 was paid shortly after the sale and the remaining amount was to be paid in installments. Philip executed a promissory note in the amount of $55,000 in favor of Geraldine. Philip died on August 17, 2014, and his wife, Paulette Sande, was appointed the personal representative of his estate. Fred filed an inventory and appraisement of Geraldine's estate, which included real property, Geraldine's share of Sande Music sale proceeds, the $55,000 promissory note from Philip, and other assets. Philip objected to the inventory and appraisement, demanded an accounting of Geraldine's Estate, and requested the immediate return of any Estate assets. Philip alleged the Estate’s real property was undervalued, Fred removed assets from the real property, Fred conveyed real property to himself, and deprived Philip of his interest in the property, and alleged Fred failed to pay rent for use of the Estate's property while conducting business there. Philip also claimed that the value of the promissory note did not reflect payments that had been made and that there were no assets from the sale of Sande Music at the time of Geraldine's death. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the evidence supported the district court’s findings, the court’s finding that Fred breached his fiduciary duty was not clearly erroneous, and the court did not abuse its discretion by denying Fred's request for personal representative’s fees and attorney’s fees. View "Estate of Sande" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition sought by Petitioners challenging a district court order compelling the production of allegedly privileged documents in a trust dispute with a beneficiary, holding that the documents were undiscoverable and that this Court expressly declines to recognize the fiduciary exception to the attorney-client privilege in Nevada. Petitioners, former trustees, challenged a district court order compelling a group of documents containing a former trustee's notes related to a phone call with counsel and a second group of documents containing the former trustee's notes taken during a meeting with other trustees, counsel, the opposing party, and an independent appraiser. The Supreme Court held that the district court acted in excess of jurisdiction in compelling the partial production of the disputed documents because (1) the first group of documents were protected by the attorney-client privilege; and (2) the second group of documents were protected by the work-product doctrine. View "Canarelli v. Eighth Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court interpreting certain provisions of the will of Sandra Larsen's late husband and determining that Sandra did not have a life estate in the decedent's property, holding that the circuit court did not err. The decedent's will divided his estate between Sandra, his children, Pamela and Kirk, and his grandchildren. Pamela and Kirk filed a complaint for declaratory judgment requesting the circuit court to construe the terms of the decedent's will and determine the extent of Sandra's interest in the decedent's house and farm. The circuit court determined that Sandra did not have a life estate in the property, noting that Sandra's rights to the property were subject to be terminated when she was no longer physically or mentally able to reside in the home. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the decedent's will did not gave Sandra a life estate in the property; (2) Pamela and Kirk had concurrent rights to access and use the property; and (3) parol evidence was necessary to interpret the scope of Sandra's rights. View "Larsen v. Stack" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that an obstructive act committed before the accrual of a cause of action tolls the statute of limitations under Va. Code 8.01-229(D) regardless of whether the cause of action has accrued at the time of the obstructive act. After Nelson Mackey left a law firm, the remaining partners - Griffith Dodson, Richard Pence, and Richard Viar - formed another partnership. Pence, Dodson, and Viar subsequently passed away. Mackey told Michael Quinn, who helped Joyce Viar with tax matters regarding Richard's estate, that certain stock that the former partnership owned had no financial interest to Mrs. Viar. Therefore, the estate did not attempt to collect the stock. Mackey subsequently sold the stock. When the three estates learned of the stock's existence and Mackey's actions, they sued Mackey alleging conversion of the stock. The trial court concluded that Mackey converted the stock, that section 8.01-229(D) tolled the limitations period, and that the tolling applied to all of the estates. The Supreme Court held (1) Mackey's representation to Quinn was sufficient to toll the statute of limitations as to Mrs. Via; but (2) because Mackey demonstrated no obstructive intent as to the Dodson or Pence estates, section 8.01-229(D) did not toll the limitations period for their claims. View "Mackey v. McDannald" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the judgment of the circuit court in a conversion case granting motions to dismiss on the ground that all pleadings filed on behalf of the Estate of A. Rafael Gomez by a non-attorney executor and all arguments made by him in court proceedings constituted the unlawful practice of law, and (2) found that the appeal in a companion case, a will contest, was improvidently granted. The Estate sought reversal of a circuit court dismissing its lawsuit on the ground that Mark Gomez, as a non-attorney executor, was not authorized to file pleadings or otherwise represent the Estate in judicial proceedings. Mark, together with his brothers, also filed a will contest in which Mark filed pleadings and argued on both his own behalf and on behalf of the Estate. The Supreme Court held (1) as to the conversion case, Mark, a non-attorney executor, was engaged in the unlawful practice of law, and therefore, the circuit court properly dismissed the case; and (2) as to the will contest, the court did not make any rulings that conclusively determined any issue in the case, and therefore, the appeal was improvidently granted. View "Gomez v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Where a trust beneficiary creates a will that gives away his trust shares without also specifically referring to the power of appointment as required by the trust, the court may not amend or reform that will to include a "specific reference" phrase so as to preserve the validity of the gift. The Court of Appeal held that reforming a will to conform to the testator's true intent is permissible if extrinsic evidence establishes that true intent. However, the court cannot do so in this case because reformation would achieve a work-around of the requirements of Probate Code sections 630, 631, and 632, effectively nullifying them. The court explained that these sections, taken together, do not excuse noncompliance. Therefore, the court affirmed the order sustaining the demurrer without leave to amend. View "Estate of Eimers" on Justia Law

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After six years of marriage, Michael Petelle filed a petition to dissolve his marriage to petitioner, Michelle Ersfeld-Petelle, having separated on January 27, 2017. The parties, both represented by counsel, executed a separation contract and CR 2A agreement on February 14, 2017. The contract divided assets and liabilities, contained an integration clause, and required all modifications to be in writing. In the contract, the parties agreed “to make a complete and final settlement of all their marital and property rights and obligations on the following terms and conditions.” The contract also provided that the “contract shall be final and binding upon the execution of both parties, whether or not a legal separation or decree of dissolution is obtained[,]” and, by its terms, the contract remained valid and enforceable against the estate of either party if either party died after the execution of the contract. Though the contract contained a “Full Satisfaction of All Claims” section, the right to intestate succession was not mentioned. Petitioner claimed that she and Michael were contemplating reconciliation, citing an e-mail Michael sent to his attorney requesting an extension to the “closing date” of the divorce. Before any reconciliation or dissolution occurred, Michael died intestate on May 1, 2017. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether Michelle, as surviving spouse, agreed in a separation contract to give up her right to intestate succession under RCW 11.04.015. Petitioner sought reversal of a published Court of Appeals opinion reversing the trial court’s denial of a motion to terminate her right to intestate succession in Michael's estate. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that under the terms of the contract, petitioner expressly waived her right to intestate succession. View "In re Estate of Petelle" on Justia Law

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After a mother requested life-insurance proceeds for the benefit of her two minor children after the death of the children’s father, the insurance company requested that she provide the appropriate guardianship documentation. The insurance company received the order appointing the mother guardian and providing directions for the issuance of funds. But the insurance company did not issue the funds as instructed by the order, and the mother misappropriated the funds. A guardian ad litem was then appointed by the chancery court for the minor children and eventually sued the insurance company in the Mississippi Circuit Court for negligence and breach of contract. The circuit court granted the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment, holding that because the insurance company was not a party to the guardianship proceeding in chancery court, the insurance company was not subject to liability for an alleged violation of the guardianship order. The Mississippi Supreme Court found, however, that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to the insurance company’s liability and that summary judgment should not have been granted. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a trial on the merits. View "Samson v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America" on Justia Law

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Alan Albrecht appeals from a district court judgment dismissing his complaint against Mark Albrecht with prejudice. The background for this case stemmed from prior litigation in the divorce proceedings of Glen and Sharleen Albrecht (Alan and Mark's parents), and continuing in the probate of Sharleen Albrecht’s estate. Alan named his brother Mark and Mark's wife as defendants in a complaint alleging contempt of court and unjust enrichment. He alleged that, while Glen and Sharleen's divorce was pending and restraining provisions were in effect, their late-mother Sharleen Albrecht changed the beneficiary designation on an investment account owned by her, removing Alan as one of the beneficiaries and naming only Mark as the transfer-on-death beneficiary. He further alleged that, in contravention of the divorce summons and interim order’s restraining provisions, Sharleen liquidated the investment account and the proceeds from the liquidated account were subsequently transferred to Mark after Sharleen's death. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded Alan lacked standing to bring the action, so it affirmed dismissal. View "Albrecht v. Albrecht, et al." on Justia Law