Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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Decedent was an unnamed class member in an action involving alleged misrepresentations made by Defendants while marketing, selling, administering, and servicing various life insurance and annuity products. After the class member died her Estate commenced an action asserting various contract, fraud, and elder abuse claims pertaining to Decedent’s 1989 purchase of a purported “single-premium universal life insurance policy.” The district court granted Defendants’ motion to enforce the settlement agreement and enjoined the Estate from pursuing the Oregon claims.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained to effectuate service under Rule 4, a party may either follow state law where service is made or fulfill one of the following: (a) deliver a copy to the individual personally; (b) leave a copy at the individual’s dwelling or usual place of abode with someone of suitable age and discretion who resides there; or (c) deliver a copy to an authorized agent. Here, the personal representative (a nonparty) was served with the motion to substitute in a manner provided by Rule 4, received notice in compliance with Rule 25(a), and was properly brought within the jurisdiction of the Minnesota district court.Further, beyond the Estate’s self-serving statements, there is no evidence suggesting Defendants did not follow the approved procedures. Finally, the court held that upon careful review of the record, the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding the doctrines of laches and unclean hands were inapplicable under the facts and circumstances of this case. View "Marjory Thomas Osborn-Vincent v. American Express Financial" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed in part, vacated in part, and reversed in part the judgment of the district court in favor of Plaintiffs in this lawsuit alleging negligence, unjust enrichment, and seeking a constructive trust, holding that the district court erred.In this lawsuit over the failure to change the beneficiary on the decedent's life insurance, Plaintiffs Michael Zook and Teresa Chramosta, as copersonal representatives of the estate of Robert Zook and in their individual capacities, and Robin Kuhlman, in her individual capacity, sued Jerry Zook, alleging unjust enrichment and seeking a constructive trust, and John Marshall, alleging negligence. The district court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs, found Defendants jointly and severally liable for $200,000, and imposed a constructive trust on the insurance proceeds in Jerry's possession. Marshall and Jerry appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed Marshall's appeal as a result of his death, reversed the district court's finding that Jerry was unjustly enriched and in imposing a constructive trust, and vacated the order imposing the constructive trust, holding that the district court erred on this issue. View "Zook v. Zook" on Justia Law

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Wife Olivia Seels Smalls died during the pendency of her divorce from Husband Joe Truman Smalls. The couple accumulated significant assets, including the marital home; eighteen rental properties; and multiple retirement, checking, savings, and investment accounts. Both parties worked during the marriage and contributed to the acquisition of the marital assets. The parties separated in July 2014 when Wife left the marital home. On October 10, 2014, Wife filed the underlying action seeking an order that would, among other things: (1) allow her to live separate and apart from Husband pendente lite and permanently; (2) restrain Husband from harassing her or cancelling her health insurance; (3) permit her to enter the marital home to retrieve her personal belongings; (4) provide separate support and maintenance and/or alimony pendente lite and permanently; and (5) equitably apportion the marital property. Wife alleged she was in poor health and had been subjected to an extended pattern of abusive behavior from Husband, which escalated after she underwent surgery for lung cancer in 2013. Wife also alleged Husband committed adultery at various times during their marriage. Husband filed an answer denying the allegations and asserting counterclaims. He likewise sought a divorce and equitable apportionment of the marital assets. The parties engaged in mediation, but Wife suffered a recurrence of cancer and they never formally entered into a signed agreement resolving their dispute. The issue this case presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court's review centered on whether the family court properly retained jurisdiction to rule on the apportionment of the marital property of the parties when the Wife died. The Court ruled the appellate court did not err in determining the family court properly retained jurisdiction to rule. View "Seels v. Smalls" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the county court finding that Appellants had committed breach of trust and had taken trust assets and ordering damages against Appellants by default judgment, holding that the findings of the county court were in conflict with the relief granted and did not conform to the law.After a trial, the court entered judgment against Appellants jointly and severally. Appellants filed a motion seeking a new trial for lack of personal jurisdiction, insufficiency of process, and insufficiency of service of process, which the trial court denied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the county court's judgment was contrary to its own findings and that remand for further proceedings was required. View "In re Masek Family Trust" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Son's action alleging that Daughter engaged in an abuse of process by filing a suit to invalidate portions of the Phyllis Schlafly Revocable Trust, holding that the petition contained sufficient allegations regarding the elements of an abuse of process claim.Son and Daughter were the children of Phyllis Schlafly (Mother). After Mother died, Daughter filed a third lawsuit seeking to void amendments to the trust due to incapacity and undue influence (the Trust Suit). Daughter voluntarily dismissed the Trust Suit with prejudice three years later. Thereafter, Son filed an amended petition alleging abuse of process. The circuit court dismissed the petition for failure to state a claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court's dismissal was erroneous because Son alleged sufficient facts to support the elements of an abuse of process claim. View "Schlafly v. Cori" on Justia Law

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Defendant was a beneficiary and trustee of a family trust. In 2018, Defendant provided Plaintiff, Defendant's daughter, and the other remainder beneficiaries with a notice stating: "[y]ou may not bring an action to contest the Trust more than 120 days from the date this notification by the trustee is served upon you." Approximately 230 days after Plaintiff received this notice, she filed a petition seeking to invalidate a previous amendment to the trust. Defendant, citing a no-contest clause contained in the trust instrument, claimed that Plaintiff's litigation resulted in her disinheritance. The trial court agreed and Plaintiff appealed.On appeal, the Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court. The court rejected Plaintiff's claim that untimely litigation does not constitute a "direct contest without probable cause." More specifically, Plaintiff argued that the fact her litigation was untimely does not automatically render it unsupported by probable cause, and that the court should review the merits of her challenge. The court explained that Plaintiff's litigation was a "direct contest" and that, solely because it was untimely, it lacked probable cause. View "Meiri v. Shamtoubi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the findings entered by the district court upon the court's determination that this case had been improperly reinstated after the district court voluntarily dismissed their case without prejudice, holding that the district court erred in dismissing this case.Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Defendants, asserting two counts of undue influence and one count of fraud in the inducement regarding the devise of certain real estate by the parties' mother. Plaintiffs later filed a voluntary dismissal of the action without prejudice. The trial court effectively treated the dismissal as a motion dismissing without prejudice then granted the motion. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a motion to vacate/reinstate, which the court sustained. The district court then dismissed the case based upon Plaintiffs' previously filed voluntary dismissal without prejudice. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, at the time Plaintiffs filed their voluntary dismissal, a final submission had occurred, divesting Plaintiffs of their statutory ability to voluntarily dismiss their case under Neb. Rev. Stat. 25-601. View "Schaaf v. Schaaf" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the circuit court determining that Denise Schipke-Smeenk was not entitled to specific performance of an agreement she made with her husband that neither party would revoke their specific wills without the other's consent, holding that the circuit court erred in determining that the claim was not timely or properly presented.Denise and Neil Smeenk executed mutual wills in 2017 and the agreement at issue. In 2019, Neil executed a new will without Denise's consent. After Neil died, the circuit court appointed Denise as personal representative of Neil's estate and ordered the 2019 will to be probated. The circuit court denied Denise's motion seeking specific performance of the agreement, determining that the motion was not properly presented as a creditor claim and was untimely and that Denise was not entitled to specific performance. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the circuit court (1) erred in determining that the claim was not timely and properly presented; but (2) correctly ruled that Denise was not entitled to specific performance. View "In re Estate of Smeenk" on Justia Law

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Allen earned a Ph.D. in physics from Yale University in 1965 and embarked on a successful career in the aerospace industry. He retired in 2004 and granted a financial power of attorney to his daughter, Key, when he and his wife experienced declining health and he could no longer manage their finances. For several years Key used the power of attorney to make withdrawals from Allen’s investment accounts held by affiliated investment firms (Brown). Five years later Allen revoked the power of attorney and sued Brown, raising contract and fiduciary-duty claims under Maryland law. He alleged that Key’s withdrawals (or some of them) were not to his benefit and that the investment companies should not have honored them.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Maryland Court of Appeals has clarified that a plaintiff may plead a claim for breach of fiduciary duty even when another cause of action (like breach of contract) is available to redress the conduct. . Still, the power of attorney shields Brown from liability for breach of fiduciary duty just as it does for breach of contract. Brown had no fiduciary obligation to refuse to carry out transactions authorized by the power of attorney. View "Allen v. Brown Advisory, LLC" on Justia Law

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Gayle died in 2006. Attorney Johnston filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions on behalf of Gayle in 2016 and 2018 at the request of Gayle’s daughter, Elizabeth, the Administratrix of her mother’s probate estate. After the dismissal of the 2018 petition, Elizabeth, pro se, filed three Chapter 13 petitions on Gayle’s behalf. The Chapter 13 Trustee sought sanctions against Bagsby after she filed yet another Chapter 13 petition.The bankruptcy court ordered Johnston to show cause why he should not be subject to sanctions for filing the two Chapter 13 petitions on behalf of a deceased person. After a hearing, the bankruptcy court reopened the first two cases and issued sanctions sua sponte against Johnston and Bagsby. The bankruptcy court determined that Johnston failed to conduct any inquiries or legal research, there was no basis in existing law to support a reasonable possibility of success, and the cases were filed for the express purpose of delaying foreclosure actions. The bankruptcy court concluded Johnston violated Rule 9011 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel and the Sixth Circuit affirmed the sanctions order. Johnson had admitted to the factual findings. The bankruptcy court was not required to find that Johnson acted in bad faith, in a manner “akin to contempt of court,” or with a specific mens rea but only whether Johnston’s conduct was reasonable. View "Johnston v. Hildebrand" on Justia Law