Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arkansas Supreme Court
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In this case involving the administration of several family trusts the Supreme Court reversed the denial of a jury trial on Appellant's legal claims and affirmed in all other respects the order of the circuit court denying Appellant's petition to direct trustee to issue trusts reports and accountings and for removal of trustees and for other relief, holding that the circuit court erred by denying Appellant a jury trial on his legal claims but otherwise did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the chief justice had jurisdiction to appoint a special judge in the case; (2) the circuit court erred by denying Appellant a jury trial on his legal claims, but Appellant was not entitled to a trial by jury on his equitable claims; (3) the circuit court did not err by relying on extrinsic evidence to determine settlor intent; (4) the circuit court did not err by denying Appellant's claim for failure to provide an accounting or in declining to appoint a special master; and (4) the circuit court did not err in not invalidating trust amendments. View "Dawson v. Stoner-Sellers" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court granting Walt & Lee Keenihan Foundation, Inc.'s (Foundation) motion for summary judgment and dismissing Heritage Properties Limited Partnership's (Heritage) complaint seeking to set aside an alleged fraudulent conveyance to the Foundation pursuant to a transfer on death (TOD) beneficiary designation on an account owned by Leta Keenihan, holding that the circuit court erred in deciding this case by summary judgment.Specifically, the Court held (1) the circuit court clearly had jurisdiction in the present case; (2) Heritage, as a creditor, had standing to pursue its claim under the Fraudulent Transfer Act against the Foundation as the transferee; and (3) Heritage was not required to present evidence of Keenihan's intent at the time of the TOD designation, but the evidence raised a factual issue precluding summary judgment as to whether Keenihan reasonably should have believed that she would incur debts beyond her ability to pay. View "Heritage Properties Limited Partnership v. Walt & Lee Keenihan Foundation, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court finding attorney Jonathan Streit in contempt of court and assessing a $100 fine, holding that substantial evidence supported the court's decision that Streit's actions displayed a lack of regard for the court's integrity and demonstrated disrespect.Streit appeared before the circuit court on a petition for permanent guardianship. At the hearing, the circuit court noted several deficiencies in the case file. The circuit court was unwilling to let the matter to proceed without compliance with the statutory requirements, and Streit argued that the circuit court took issue with him because he successfully reversed the circuit court in a separate case. The circuit court then found Streit in contempt of court and assessed a fine. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that substantial evidence supported the court's decision to hold Streit in contempt. View "Streit v. State" on Justia Law

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Appellant James Corn appealed a circuit court order denying his petition to establish a special-needs trust pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1396p(d)(4)(A). Corn was disabled because of a head injury from which he suffered short-term memory loss. Because of the severity of his injury, he received Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Corn’s eligibility made him automatically eligible for Medicaid. However, SSI had an asset test which stated that Corn would become ineligible if he were to have assets of more than $2,000. Because of this, Corn’s partner, Ms. Yelvington, now deceased, established a special-needs trust for him. Yelvington also designated Corn as a beneficiary on life insurance policies and her bank accounts. There was approximately $260,000 that was not transferred into the special-needs trust created by Yelvington, and because Corn was designated as the beneficiary on these assets they would pass directly to Corn upon Yelvington’s death. Because these assets would be passing directly to Corn rather than through a special-needs trust, Corn would be ineligible to receive SSI benefits. In order to prevent this, Corn attempted to create a "D4A" trust. At the time of the circuit court hearing, Yelvington had passed away and her estate was in probate. Corn had not yet received any funds from her estate or from her beneficiary designations. In its order denying Corn’s motion for reconsideration, the circuit court found that the establishment of the trust would be against Arkansas public policy and that there was insufficient evidence presented to support that a special-needs trust should be established. The Supreme Court found that through his testimony at the hearing and by attaching letters from the Social Security Administration to his motion for reconsideration, Corn provided the circuit court with sufficient evidence of his disability. Therefore, the Court held that the circuit court erred in finding that there was insufficient evidence that Corn was disabled. The circuit court’s order was reversed and the case remanded for a determination of whether the proposed D4A trust met the requirements set forth in the statute. View "In re Corn" on Justia Law

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The circuit court granted Janet Autry’s petition to be appointed temporary guardian of Louise Sheperd. Pam and Don Beckham were allowed to intervene. The circuit court appointed the Beckhams guardians of Sheperd and First Community Bank of Searcy as the guardian of Sheperd’s estate. The court of appeals reversed. Before the mandate issued, Timothy Whaley filed an ex parte petition to be appointed temporary guardian and permanent guardian of Sheperd. Before the circuit court took action, the Beckhams filed another petition to intervene and for appointment as guardians. The circuit court denied Whaley’s motion to dismiss the Beckhams’ motion to intervene, granted the Beckhams’ intervention, and reappointed the Beckhams as temporary guardians of the person of Sheperd and First Community Bank as guardian of the estate. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in denying Whaley’s motion to dismiss the Beckhams’ motion for leave to intervene in the probate proceedings. View "Whaley v. Beckham" on Justia Law

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Appellee filed a notice of appeal from a probate order approving a settlement agreement among Appellants. Upon Appellee’s motion, the circuit court extended the time to lodge the record. Appellee subsequently filed a motion asking the court to enter a nunc pro tunc order clarifying its findings of fact relating to the order granting the extension because that order did not include the findings required by Ark. R. App. P.-Civ. 5(b). The circuit court entered the nunc pro tunc order. Appellants appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in entering the nunc pro tunc order because Rule 5(b) had not been complied with at the time the original motion for extension of time was granted. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the circuit court’s nunc pro tunc order, as the extension order complied with Rule 5(b); (2) affirmed the circuit court’s order approving the settlement agreement, as the settlement was in the best interest of the Estate of J.D. Ashley, Sr.; and (3) denied Appellants’ motion to dismiss Appellee’s appeal and their motion for sanctions, as Appellee timely lodged the record for his appeal and Appellee’s appeal was not frivolous. View "Ashley v. Ashley" on Justia Law

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Settlor executed a will stating that First Presbyterian and First Baptist churches were to receive the remainder of his estate, which consisted largely of farmland. The Settlor named a trustee and directed it to hold the farmland as a testamentary trust during the life of the will’s lifetime beneficiaries and, thereafter, to distribute the proceeds of the property to the churches. First Presbyterian later dissolved its congregation and transferred its assets to Covenant Presbytery. The trustee for the Settlor’s trust requested that the circuit court determine the rights of First Baptist and Covenant Presbytery to the farmland and its income. The circuit court applied the cy pres doctrine and reformed the trust to provide that First Presbyterian’s distributions should be transferred to First Baptist. Covenant Presbytery appealed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because the will did not create a charitable trust, the cy pres doctrine was inapplicable; and (2) per the parties’ stipulation, First Presbyterian assigned its rights under the trust to Covenant Presbytery. View "Covenant Presbytery v. First Baptist Church" on Justia Law

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Appellant was a signatory to a family settlement agreement concerning a will that was subsequently approved by the circuit court. The agreement distributed a portion of the assets of the decedent’s estates to the estate of a minor, K.P. Appellant later filed a motion to set aside the family-settlement agreement, alleging that, after the circuit court had approved the agreement, Appellant discovered that K.P. was not the decedent’s natural child and that K.P.’s mother had falsely claimed that K.P. was the decedent’s natural child. The circuit court dismissed Appellant’s motion on the basis of res judicata, finding that the issues of paternity and proportionate entitlement to inherit had already been litigated. The court also dismissed Appellant’s motion to compel discovery as moot. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court properly concluded that its ruling on res judicata rendered moot Appellant’s motion to compel discovery. View "Norris v. Davis" on Justia Law

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J.B. Hunt was a judgment creditor of Robert and Frieda Thornton, who were the trustees and life beneficiaries of five trusts, each of which provided that quarterly distributions be made to the Thorntons until their deaths. J.B. Hunt commenced an action to attach the Thorntons’ interest in future distributions from the trusts and to apply them to the satisfaction of J.B. Hunt’s judgment. The circuit court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim, determining that a creditor may not claim a quarterly distribution until the date it becomes due. On appeal, J.B. Hunt asserted that Ark. Code Ann. 28-73-501 provides that a creditor may reach future distributions from a trust. Appellees argued that although attachments of future distributions may be authorized by section 28-73-501 in some situations, it was not permissible in this case. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that J.B. Hunt’s complaint improperly sought the Thorntons’ uncertain future distributions from the trusts, and the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing it. View "J.B. Hunt v. Thornton" on Justia Law

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Decedent was a resident of Searcy Healthcare Center (SHC) from January 7 to January 29. On January 8, Decedent executed a written arbitration agreement with SHC that was binding on Decedent's children, personal representatives, and administrators of Decedent's estate. Decedent died on February 12. The next year, Appellee filed a nursing-home-malpractice action against SHC as administrator of Decedent's estate and on behalf of the statutory wrongful-death beneficiaries. The circuit court denied SHC's motion to compel arbitration against the wrongful-death beneficiaries, concluding that Decedent had not extinguished the substantive rights of the wrongful-death beneficiaries by signing the arbitration agreement. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred as a matter of law in finding that the wrongful-death beneficiaries were not bound by the arbitration agreement executed by Decedent. Remanded. View "Searcy Healthcare Ctr., LLC v. Murphy" on Justia Law