Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

by
The case revolves around a dispute between two sisters, Sarah Plott Key (Key) and Elizabeth Plott Tyler (Tyler), over the enforcement of a "no contest" clause in a 1999 trust established by their parents. The trust had a lengthy appellate history with three prior appeals concerning the same trust. Key filed a petition in probate court to disinherit her sister, Tyler, based on the "no contest" clause in the trust. Tyler had previously defended a 2007 amendment to the trust, which was found to have been procured through undue influence.Previously, the probate court had granted Tyler's anti-SLAPP motion, concluding that Tyler had not directly contested the trust as she had only defended the 2007 amendment. However, this was reversed on appeal, with the appellate court holding that Tyler's defense of the 2007 amendment constituted a direct contest of the trust.On remand, Tyler raised a new issue: whether the lack of a no contest clause in a 2003 amendment to the trust meant that her share of the assets distributed under the terms of that amendment were exempt from forfeiture. The trial court agreed with Tyler, concluding that her share of the assets was exempt from forfeiture.However, the Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District disagreed with the lower court's decision. The appellate court held that the plain language of the original trust's no contest provision required that if Tyler lacked probable cause to contest the trust, she must be disinherited. The court found that Tyler's share of the trust's residual monetary assets was not exempt from forfeiture simply because her specific share was specified by a subsequent amendment that did not contain a no contest clause. The court reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Key v. Tyler" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around the estate of Linda C. Giguere, who passed away in 2021. Her will, dated 2013, nominated her husband, William Giguere, as the personal representative and established a trust for his benefit if she predeceased him. The will also stated that upon William's death, the remaining balance would be paid to his children. However, the will did not provide for the disposition of Linda’s residuary estate if William predeceased her, which he did in 2015. Linda did not execute a new will after William’s death. The will also explicitly stated that Linda's estranged daughter, Hilary Barlow, was to receive nothing.In the Cumberland County Probate Court, Hilary Barlow filed an application for the informal appointment of a personal representative of her mother’s estate. The court appointed Hilary as personal representative. Later, Eric and Mark Giguere, William's sons, filed petitions for the formal probate of the will and appointment of a personal representative. The court removed Hilary as personal representative and appointed Attorney LeBlanc as successor personal representative. Attorney LeBlanc filed a petition for instructions, asserting that the 2013 will did not dispose of Linda’s estate because it made no provision for the disposition of the residuary estate in the event that William predeceased Linda.The Probate Court rejected the request to reform the 2013 will to name Eric and Mark as residuary devisees, stating that the evidence was not clear and convincing. The court concluded that since the 2013 will did not fully dispose of Linda’s estate, the residuary estate passed by intestate succession to Hilary.On appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Eric and Mark argued that the Probate Court’s finding was against the preponderance of the believable evidence. They contended that the absence of a provision disposing of the residuary estate must have been a scrivener's error. However, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the Probate Court’s judgment, stating that Eric and Mark failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Linda intended that they be the residuary devisees of her estate if William predeceased Linda. The court also concluded that the 2013 will did not provide for the disposition of Linda’s residuary estate in the event she survived William, and thus those assets passed by way of intestate succession to Hilary. View "Estate of Giguere" on Justia Law

by
The case involves the Luca McDermott Catena Gift Trust (Appellant) and two related family trusts, all of which are minority owners of California-based Paul Hobbs Winery, L.P. (Hobbs Winery). The trusts collectively own 21.6% of the partnership. Hobbs Winery owns the registered trademark PAUL HOBBS for wines. The Appellant and the two related family trusts filed a consolidated petition to cancel the registered marks ALVAREDOS-HOBBS and HILLICK AND HOBBS, owned by Fructuoso-Hobbs SL and Hillick & Hobbs Estate, LLC (Appellees), respectively. The petition alleged that the use of these marks by the Appellees was likely to cause confusion in the marketplace with Hobbs Winery's use of PAUL HOBBS for the same goods.The Appellees moved to dismiss the petition, arguing that the family trusts were not entitled by statute to cancel the challenged marks because they were not the owners of the allegedly infringed PAUL HOBBS mark. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the Board) granted the motions to dismiss, concluding that the family trusts lacked a statutory entitlement to bring the cancellation action. The Board also concluded that the family trusts had failed to adequately plead likelihood of confusion and fraud.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board's decision. The court found that the Appellant lacked entitlement to a statutory cause of action under 15 U.S.C. § 1064. The court held that the Appellant's alleged injury, the diminishment in value of its ownership interest in Hobbs Winery due to Appellees' use of their marks, was merely derivative of any injury suffered by Hobbs Winery itself and was too remote to provide the Appellant with a cause of action under § 1064. View "LUCA MCDERMOTT CATENA GIFT TRUST v. FRUCTUOSO-HOBBS SL " on Justia Law

by
This case involves a dispute between a decedent's wife and the co-personal representatives of the decedent's estate over the ownership of $100,000 and a camper under the terms of a premarital agreement. The decedent's wife, Yvonne M. White, argued that she was entitled to these assets based on the premarital agreement she had with her late husband, Leonard P. White. The co-personal representatives of Leonard's estate, his sons Jamison Patrick White and Ryan Howard White, contested this claim.The District Court for Washington County, Nebraska, ruled in favor of Yvonne, awarding her the $100,000 and the camper. The co-personal representatives appealed this decision to the Nebraska Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court's ruling. They then sought further review from the Nebraska Supreme Court.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The court found that Yvonne's suit for the $100,000 and the camper did not constitute a "claim" against the estate, but rather, she was a beneficiary of the estate entitled to the assets she sought under a breach of contract theory according to the terms of the premarital agreement. Therefore, her suit was not subject to the nonclaim statute's requirements for the timely filing of a claim. The court also found that the camper was a joint asset under the premarital agreement, rejecting the co-personal representatives' argument that it was the decedent's separate property. View "White v. White" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around the beneficiaries of a trust established by John Demskie, the founder of Remote Technologies, Inc. (RTI). The trust's principal asset was John Demskie’s 90 percent ownership interest in RTI. After his death in 2016, the beneficiaries alleged that U.S. Bank, the sole trustee, became the controlling shareholder of RTI and took actions that severely diminished the value of RTI and frustrated their reasonable expectations as owners of beneficial interests in RTI. The beneficiaries brought claims against U.S. Bank for breach of fiduciary duty and unfairly prejudicial conduct under the Minnesota Business Corporation Act, seeking damages and a buy-out of their interests in RTI.The district court granted U.S. Bank's motion for judgment on the pleadings, ruling that the beneficiaries could not bring a shareholder action against U.S. Bank under the Minnesota Business Corporation Act because the allegations in the complaint were not sufficient to establish that either the beneficiaries or U.S. Bank were shareholders of RTI. The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of both claims.The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court held that the beneficiaries sufficiently pleaded the shareholder status of U.S. Bank under the notice pleading standard, reversing the dismissal of their breach-of-fiduciary-duty claim. However, the court was evenly divided on the issue of whether owners of beneficial interests in a corporation may initiate an action for a buy-out of their interests, affirming the decision of the court of appeals dismissing their claim for buy-out relief. The case was remanded to the court of appeals for further proceedings. View "Demskie vs. U.S. Bank National Association" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around a family dispute over the management of a trust established by Bernard and Jeannette Fenenbock. The trust was divided into three sub-trusts (Trust A, Trust B, and Trust C) to benefit their children, Glenna Fenenbock Gaddy and Mark Fenenbock. After Bernard's death, Glenna began serving as co-trustee with her mother Jeannette. Upon Jeannette's death, Glenna transferred shares from the sub-trusts to her own trust and sold them to her sons, Weston and Lane. Mark filed a lawsuit against Glenna, asserting that she had breached her duties as a trustee by transferring the shares without his approval as a co-trustee.The probate court ruled in favor of Mark, declaring that Mark is a co-trustee and that the transfer of shares to Glenna's Trust was void. The court ordered that the shares be restored to the sub-trusts. Glenna appealed this decision, and the court of appeals vacated the probate court’s order, concluding that the buyers of the shares, Weston and Lane, were “jurisdictionally indispensable parties” whose absence deprived the probate court of jurisdiction.The Supreme Court of Texas disagreed with the court of appeals, holding that the probate court had jurisdiction but erred by ordering Glenna to restore property she no longer owns or controls. The court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment vacating the probate court’s order, reversed the probate court’s order, and remanded the case to the probate court for further proceedings. The court noted that any appropriate relief must come from Glenna or Glenna’s Trust or through the ultimate distribution of the assets remaining in the Sub-Trusts. View "IN THE MATTER OF TRUST A AND TRUST C. ESTABLISHED UNDER THE BERNARD L. AND JEANNETTE FENENBOCK LIVING TRUST AGREEMENT" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around the interpretation of the Michael Hessler Living Trust. Michael Hessler, the settlor of the trust, had three children: Heidi Shaddick, Amber Rocha, and Brock Hessler. He also had a romantic relationship with Lori J. Miller. After Hessler's death, the successor trustee of the trust, Robert Hessler, deeded a house to Miller and allocated all inheritance tax to the trust's residuary, which was to be divided among Hessler's three children. The children sued, arguing that the inheritance tax should be equitably apportioned among all beneficiaries, including Miller.The case was initially filed in Lancaster County, but the trustee successfully moved to transfer the case to Scotts Bluff County, where the trust was registered. The children challenged this decision, arguing that the case should have been heard in Lancaster County, where the real estate in question was located.The county court for Scotts Bluff County granted Miller's motion for partial summary judgment on the inheritance tax issue, ruling that the language of the trust was clear enough to override the statutory pattern that would otherwise presume equitable apportionment of inheritance tax. The court concluded that the trust's language indicated that all inheritance taxes were to be paid from the trust's residue, not by the individual beneficiaries. The children appealed this decision.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. It ruled that the order transferring venue to Scotts Bluff County was not a final order and could be challenged in the appeal. The court also found no error in the lower court's decision to admit an affidavit from the attorney who drafted the trust. Finally, the court agreed with the lower court's interpretation of the trust, concluding that the trust's language clearly indicated that inheritance taxes were to be paid by the trust rather than by the individual beneficiaries. View "In re Hessler Living Trust" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around a dispute over the ownership of funds in a joint checking account following the death of one of the parties named on the account. Karon “Kelly” Kelso was originally a joint owner of a checking account with his wife, Sandra Kelso. After Sandra's death, Linda Applington, a friend of Kelly’s, began helping Kelly process his monthly bills. Kelly later added Linda on his checking account as a joint owner with the right of survivorship. After Kelly's death, his son, Greg Kelso, became the personal representative and sole heir of Kelly’s estate. Greg sought to have the funds transferred to Kelly’s estate, but Linda claimed ownership of the account under the right of survivorship and declined to transfer the funds.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Linda, finding clear and convincing evidence that Kelly intended Linda to have the funds in his account upon his death. Greg appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho.The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and remanded for a jury trial. The court found that there were inconsistencies in the testimonies of Linda and Janet Overman, an employee of the bank, which raised questions about their credibility. The court held that summary judgment was not proper when the record raises any question as to the credibility of witnesses. The court also vacated the award of attorney fees to Linda, stating that the prevailing party has not been determined and fees may be considered at the conclusion of the case. View "Kelso v. Applington" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around the interpretation of the term "home" in the context of Medicaid eligibility. The applicants, Clyde and Dorothy Burt, sold their house to their daughter and son-in-law, Linda and Robby Wallace, and moved into a rental property owned by the Wallaces. Later, they moved into a skilled-nursing facility. After moving into the facility, the Burts used their cash assets to buy an undivided one-half interest in the house they had previously sold to the Wallaces. They then executed a Lady Bird deed in favor of the Wallaces, granting their newly acquired one-half interest back to the Wallaces, reserving an enhanced life estate. The Burts then applied for Medicaid assistance, but the Texas Health and Human Services Commission denied their claim, arguing that the property interest was not excluded from the calculation of resources for Medicaid eligibility.The trial court reversed the agency’s determination, and the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision. The court of appeals held that a property interest created after admission to a skilled-nursing facility can be excluded from the resources used to determine Medicaid eligibility if the applicant states an intent to live at the property in the future.The Supreme Court of Texas disagreed with the lower courts' interpretation. The court held that a “home” is the applicant’s principal place of residence before the claim for Medicaid assistance arises, coupled with the intent to reside there in the future. A property interest purchased with qualifying resources after the applicant moves to a skilled-nursing facility is an available resource for determining Medicaid eligibility under federal eligibility rules, as the property was not the applicant’s principal place of residence at the time the claim for benefits arose. The court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and rendered judgment in favor of the Commission. View "TEXAS HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES COMMISSION v. ESTATE OF CLYDE L. BURT" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around the interpretation of a provision in the Eileen Ryan Revocable Trust. The provision in question bequeathed $5 million in "Countable Assets" to each of Eileen’s five children. Constance M. Ryan, one of the children, argued that she had not yet received the full amount of Countable Assets. She contended that certain gifts she had received during Eileen’s lifetime were intended to be separate from the testamentary bequests made in Eileen’s trust instruments and therefore, such gifts would not reduce the amount she would receive under the Countable Assets provision.The County Court for Douglas County found that Constance had already received more than the $5 million due in Countable Assets based on the language of the trust instrument and evidence. The court granted summary judgment against Constance on all issues and dismissed her petition. Constance appealed this decision.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the trust agreement was unambiguous and that the distributions Constance received from irrevocable trusts during Eileen’s lifetime were Countable Assets. Therefore, Constance had already received the $5 million bequest and was not entitled to additional assets. The court also rejected Constance's request to reform the trust agreement, finding no evidence that both Eileen’s intent and the terms of the trust were affected by a mistake of fact or law. View "In re Eileen Ryan Revocable Trust" on Justia Law