Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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Lawrence Taylor appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Charles Hanks in Taylor's will contest. Taylor challenged the will of his father, Billy Lee Hite, alleging, among other things, that Hite had lacked testamentary capacity when he made the will, which did not mention Taylor. Because the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding whether Hite had testamentary capacity, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Taylor v. Hanks" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Crag Dyas and Dyas, LLC appealed a circuit court's orders disposing of some of their claims against some of the defendants below. Because those orders did not constitute a valid, final judgment that would support an appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed this appeal. View "Dyas v. Stringfellow et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the determination of the trial court that James Charles St. John must pay attorney fees to the person he defrauded, holding that the circuit court did not err.St. John befriended his neighbor, Ernest Stuart Elsea, II. St. John subsequently persuaded Elsea to transfer his extensive firearm collection to a firearm trust that St. John established and controlled and had Elsea sign a durable power of attorney. St. John then induced Elsea to sign a codicil to his will naming St. John and St. John's partner as beneficiaries. Elsea filed a complaint seeking an accounting and a recovery of the firearms, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, and alleging fraud an undue influence. The circuit court rejected counts one and two but ordered St. John to either return the firearms to Elsea or pay Elsea the value of the firearms. The circuit court then ordered St. John to pay attorney's fees. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court properly awarded fees under Prospect Development Co. v. Bershader, 258 Va. 75 (1999). View "St. John v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Appellant Victor Kearney was the lifetime income beneficiary of two spendthrift trusts when he filed for bankruptcy in 2017. The United States Trustee’s office appointed an unsecured creditors committee (“UCC”) which proposed a reorganization plan contemplating a one-time trust distribution to pay off appellant's debts. After a New Mexico state court modified the trusts to authorize the distribution, the bankruptcy court approved the plan. Appellant appealed. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (“BAP”) of the Tenth Circuit concluded that the bankruptcy court did not deny appellant due process, made no errors in its findings of fact, and did not abuse its discretion in settling appellant's claims. On appeal of that decision, appellant argued that using spendthrift trust assets to fund the reorganization plan violated the trusts’ spendthrift provision and the law, and that approving the settlement of his claims amounted to an abuse of the bankruptcy court’s discretion. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the BAP. View "Kearney v. Unsecured Creditors Committee" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the district court on declaratory judgment declining to adjudicate the validity of two wills the ward, who was still alive, executed while he was in a voluntary conservatorship, holding that neither Iowa Code 633.637 nor other provisions of the Probate Code permit a challenge to the validity of a will executed by a testator who is still living.The ward's sister and her husband (together, Petitioners) brought this action to determine the validity of the ward's two wills. The conservator bank moved to dismiss the action, arguing that Petitioners lacked standing to challenge the wills while the testator was still alive. The district court denied the motion to dismiss but limited the scope of the action to a determination of the ward's present testamentary capacity. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) will contests must await the testator's death, and the Probate Code does not allow this declaratory judgment action to proceed; and (2) the district court erred by ordering Petitioners to pay the conservator's attorney fees without an applicable fee-shifting statute. View "In re Guardianship & Conservatorship of Radda" on Justia Law

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Lucille and Lewis Keading created a trust for the benefit of their children, Kenton and Hilja. During their lifetimes, they provided financial assistance to Kenton but not to Hilja. Kenton had been imprisoned for nine years. In 2015, Hilja returned to her parents’ home to care for them, clean their house, and organize their finances. Lewis died a few months after Lucille. Days after Lewis died, Kenton recorded a deed, transferring the property from the trust to him and his father as joint tenants. He sold Lewis’s car and kept the proceeds.After discovering that Kenton had represented himself as their father’s attorney-in-fact and had executed the deed, Hilja filed suit. A court-appointed trustee joined Hilja’s suit. The court found the transfer invalid, set aside the deed, and vested title to the property with the trustee. Meanwhile, Kenton sued Hilja for libel. The court granted Hilja’s anti-SLAPP motion, concluded Kenton was liable for elder abuse and that the property transfers resulted from elder abuse.The court of appeal affirmed the judgment that found Kenton liable for elder financial abuse through undue influence and ordered him to pay $1.5 million in damages and upheld a prejudgment right to attach order. Probate Code section 859 authorizes an award of double damages for the commission of elder financial abuse without a separate finding of bad faith. The court also upheld the dismissal of Kenton’s libel action. View "Keading v. Keading" on Justia Law

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Neil Olson appealed a district court order dismissing his second petition requesting formal probate proceedings for the Estate of his great-uncle, Neil Johnson. The court found Neil Olson was estopped from challenging the court’s prior finding that he was not an interested person under N.D.C.C. 30.1-01-06(26) and therefore lacked standing to assert his claims. To this, the North Dakota Supreme Court concurred and affirmed the dismissal of Olson’s second petition. View "Estate of Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the county court declining to approve a nonjudicial settlement agreement, holding that the agreement violated a material purpose of the trust, of which Appellant was a beneficiary.Appellant, a beneficiary of a trust created by his father, now deceased, filed this action in the county court seeking approval of a trust settlement agreement entered into between Appellant, his mother, and his sister. Appellant further sought an order requiring compliance with the terms of the agreement. The trial court issued an order rejecting the agreement and finding that the agreement was nonbinding under Neb. Rev. Stat. 30-3811. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the probate court did not err in finding that the agreement altered a material purpose of the trust and in declining to approve the agreement. View "In re Trust Created by McGregor" on Justia Law

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Amira Manderson-Saleh was the daughter of an oncology nurse (Mother) who worked at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) for about 12 years until she retired shortly before her death. Mother earned a pension under rules permitting the employee to designate a beneficiary to receive specified monthly pension benefits upon the employee’s death. When Manderson-Saleh claimed her rights as the designated beneficiary shortly after Mother’s death, The Regents of the University of California (Regents) denied her claim, finding Mother did not properly identify Manderson-Saleh as the contingent beneficiary before her death. Thus, none of the earned pension benefits were paid. Manderson-Saleh filed a complaint against the Regents, alleging breach of contract. Alternatively, she sought a writ of mandate to overturn the Regents’ decision. The Regents demurred only to the contract claim, and the court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. Proceedings on the mandate petition, the court found Manderson-Saleh was not entitled to relief because the Regents had the right to strictly apply its rule that contingent-annuitant pension benefits were conditioned on the Regents receiving a signed beneficiary-election form before the employee’s death, and the Regents received this form one week after Mother’s death. The court rejected Manderson-Saleh’s different interpretation of the rule and her arguments this rule was satisfied by the Regents receiving Mother’s election worksheet before her death. The court entered a final judgment sustaining the demurrer and denying the mandate petition. Manderson-Saleh challenged both rulings. Finding the trial court properly sustained the demurrer, the Court of Appeal affirmed in part. However, the trial court erred in denying the mandate petition. "The undisputed evidence establishes Mother substantially complied with the Regents’ pension rules and the Regents abused its discretion in failing to consider and apply the substantial compliance doctrine in evaluating Manderson-Saleh’s claim." The matter was remanded with directions for the trial court to grant mandamus relief, and to issue a a writ ordering the Regents to grant Manderson-Saleh's contingent-annuitant pension claim. View "Manderson-Saleh v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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The testator herein executed two notarial testaments: one in 2013 and another in 2015 (which purported to revoke all prior testaments). The 2013 testament divided the testator’s property equally among his three adult children (Conway, Jeffrey, and Laura). The 2015 testament, executed under La. C.C. art. 1579 (for a testator who is unable to read regardless of whether he is able to sign his name), divided the testator’s property between only two of his children (Jeffrey and Laura), excluding the third child (Conway). After the testator’s death in 2018, Conway challenged the validity of the 2015 testament on several bases, in response to his siblings’ attempt to probate the testament. The issue raised by this case was whether the language of an attestation clause in the 2015 testament, which failed to expressly state that the testator declared or signified that he signed the testament “at the end of the testament and on each other separate page,” in accordance with the requirements of La. C.C. art. 1579, rendered the testament absolutely null under La. C.C. art. 1573. The Louisiana Supreme Court concluded the attestation clause here stated simply that the testator "signed" the testament, which could only establish the testator signed the eight-page testament once, rather than "at the end" and "on each other separate page," as required by La. C.C. art. 1579(2). "An attestation clause that fails to state that the testament was signed at the end and on each other separate page fails to inform the testator and witnesses that the testator has a responsibility to sign every page of a multiple-page testament, and “signing one’s name on each page of the will undoubtedly offers more heightened protection from surreptitious replacement of pages." The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal and reinstated the trial court's judgment, which invalidated the 2015 testament. View "Succession of James Conway Liner, III" on Justia Law