Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

by
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing the complaint filed by Hoff Stauffer on behalf of the estate of Carlton Stauffer, his father, against the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) alleging that the IRS improperly denied his April 2013 for his father's 2006 tax refund as untimely, holding that the Estate's arguments on appeal were unavailing. Before the district court, the Estate argued that the applicable statute of limitations for the filing of a tax refund claim was tolled due to Carlton's financial disability. The district court disagreed, concluding that because Hoff held a durable power of attorney (DPA) authorizing him to act on behalf of Carlton in financial matters the limitations period was not tolled. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the DPA qualified Hoff as a person authorized to act on behalf of Carlton in financial matters for the purposes of I.R.C. 6511(h)(2)(B); and (2) there was no clear error in the court's factual finding that Hoff never renounced the DPA. View "Stauffer v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

by
In 1986, Robert Levin established a revocable trust, and was thereafter amended several times: in 1993, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012. After Robert passed away in 2015, litigation erupted, principally over the 2008 and 2012 amendments. Elizabeth Levin, Robert’s daughter from a prior marriage, sued Robert’s widow, Debra Winston-Levin, on multiple grounds which, by the time the matter went to trial, had devolved into causes of action for an order compelling the return of certain Levin Trust property pursuant to Probate Code section 850, and for double damages pursuant to Probate Code section 859. With regard to the 2012 amendment, the trial court found a presumption of undue influence went unrebutted by Debra. As a result, the court voided the entire 2012 amendment and ordered Debra to return property she had obtained pursuant to the 2012 amendment and a related deed. Elizabeth appealed, contending the court erred in three ways: (1) the court’s finding of undue influence compelled a finding that Debra was liable for financial abuse of an elder, which, in turn, compelled an award of double damages under Probate Code section 859; (2) the evidence compelled a finding that undue influence tainted the 2008 amendment; and (3) the court erred in voiding the entire 2012 amendment rather than carving out only those portions that benefited Debra. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court correctly interpreted section 859; the court’s ruling was supported by substantial evidence; and a reasonable inference from the cumulative changes in the amendment were that they were intended to be intertwined, such that voiding only those portions benefiting Debra would not effectuate Robert’s intent. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. View "Levin v. Winston-Levin" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the probate court first granting Appellant's petition for probate of George W. Stanford's estate and appointment of an administrator but then reversing itself when the State objected to the appointment, holding that the State did not have standing to object to the appointment of the administrator. Appellant was incarcerated for more than twenty years when his convictions were vacated and an order of actual innocence was entered. Appellant later filed a complaint against the City of Cheyenne and several of its law enforcement officers, including Stanford, a detective who died before the complaint was filed. Appellant then filed a petition for the probate of Stanford's intestate estate and for appointment of an administrator. The probate court admitted the estate to probate and appointed an administrator. Thereafter, the State filed a document objecting to the appointment of an administrator for Stanford's estate. The probate court entered an order vacating the appointment of the administrator and closing the estate. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court should have dismissed the State's objection for failure to state a claim because the State did not meet the probate code requirements for standing. View "Johnson v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court upholding the validity of a transfer-on-death deed that was signed by a benefiting party at the direction of the party seeking to make the transfer, holding that the district court did not err. The district court deemed the transfer-on-death deed to constitute an enforceable transfer of Roxie Moore's real property to Maureen Miles. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court considered evidence relating to the authority by which Maureen signed the deed, notwithstanding the notary's designation of signature through power of attorney; (2) the district court's determination that Maureen signed the deed as an amanuensis was supported by clear and convincing evidence; (3) the facts as found by the district court rebutted the presumption of invalidity of the deed under the clear and convincing evidence standard; and (4) Appellant failed to present even a preponderance of evidence demonstrating that Roxie lacked the capacity to make knowing and understanding conveyance. View "In re Estate of Moore" on Justia Law

by
Payments owed to a shareholder by a bankrupt debtor, which are not quite dividends but which certainly look a lot like dividends, should be treated like the equity interests of a shareholder and subordinated to claims by creditors of the debtor. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that the deemed dividends gave the Estate benefits normally reserved for equity investors and thus subordination of all of the Estate's claims was appropriate. The court also held that the bankruptcy court did not abuse its discretion in denying discovery. Likewise, the court held that the Estate's due process right to discovery was not violated. View "French v. Linn Energy, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner and respondent were siblings and the children of the donor of the trusts at issue in this case. Both the donor and his wife were deceased. Respondent and a bank were co-trustees of the trusts. In June 2018, petitioner asked the probate division to remove respondent as the individual family trustee of the trusts and appoint petitioner’s wife as respondent’s successor. Petitioner asserted that removal of the individual family trustee would improve administration of the trust. He cited as bases for removal the noncommunicative relationship between him and respondent and respondent’s lack of attention to the investment performance of the trusts. Petitioner appealed the civil division’s determination that it lacked jurisdiction to consider his appeal of the probate division’s dismissal of his petition to remove respondent as trustee. After review of the specific facts presented on appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the civil division’s reasoning but transferred petitioner’s appeal to itself and remanded for further proceedings in the probate division on the petition for removal of trustee. View "In re Peter Val Preda Trusts" on Justia Law

by
At issue before the Court of Appeals was whether James Robert Anderson, settlor and trustee of the James Robert Anderson Revocable Trust (the trust), validly amended the trust when he made handwritten interlineations to one of the operative trust documents, specifically the First Amendment to the trust (First Amendment), making Grey Dey a beneficiary. After making the interlineations, Anderson sent both the original trust instrument and the interlineated First Amendment to his attorney to have the new disposition of his trust estate formalized in a second amendment to the trust. Anderson died before the formal amendment was prepared for his signature. Margaret Pena, successor trustee, petitioned the trial court for instructions as to the validity of the interlineations. She moved for summary judgment, asserting the interlineations did not amount to a valid amendment to the trust as a matter of law. The trial court granted the motion and entered judgment in Pena’s favor. Dey appealed, but the Court of Appeal concurred with the trial court: the interlineations did not validly amend the trust because the trust specifically requires amendments “be made by written instrument signed by the settlor and delivered to the trustee. … While the law considers the interlineations a separate written instrument, and while there can be no doubt Anderson delivered them to himself as trustee, he did not sign them.” While there was no dispute in this case that Anderson intended Dey to receive a portion of his trust estate, there was also no genuine dispute that Anderson intended to sign this and other changes to his trust when formalized by his attorney. Unfortunately, he died before that could be accomplished. View "Pena v. Dey" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the opinion of the court of appeals reversing in part the judgment of the circuit court in favor of the Contestants in this will-contest case, holding that the court of appeals erred by failing to apply the appropriate standard of appellate review of the trial court's denial of the will-proponent's directed-verdict motion. In reversing the circuit court's judgment in favor of the Contestants, the court of appeals found that the Contestants' evidence at trial was insufficient to support the jury's verdict. The Supreme Court reversed the opinion of the court of appeals and reinstated the jury's verdict on the will-contest issues but otherwise affirmed, holding that the court of appeals erred by failing to apply the appropriate standard of appellate review of the trial court's denial of the will proponent's directed verdict motion. View "Getty v. Getty" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court delegating its final approval of final accountings submitted by a trustee and conservator as provided by statute and directing that the Commissioner of Accounts conduct that approval of the final accountings, holding that the circuit court erred. In a circuit court order, the court ruled that a previous order as not yet final but would become so when the Commissioner filed the approval of the final accounts with the clerk of the circuit court. The Supreme Court dismissed a first appeal without prejudice because the previous order was not a final, appealable order. In a second appeal, the trustee argued that the circuit court erred by adopting a procedure for the review and approval of the final accounts that deprived the beneficiaries of a meaningful opportunity and due process to review and challenge the accountings. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the circuit court erroneously delegated its approval of the final accounts to the Commissioner without a certification that it had made a personal examination of the exceptions. View "Murphy v. Smith" on Justia Law

by
Donald Croom Beatty, Jr., appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing an action involving the estate of his mother, Mary Alice Gatlin Beatty. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Donald's notice of appeal was untimely filed; therefore it did not invoke the Supreme Court's jurisdiction to consider the issues he raised on appeal. Accordingly, the Court dismissed his appeal. View "Beatty v. Carmichael" on Justia Law