Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arkansas Supreme Court
by
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

by
Bobbie Troup, in her capacity as the administrator of the estate of Easter Dawkins, filed suit alleging medical malpractice and wrongful death against Petitioners. During the trial proceedings, Troup filed a petition requesting that Petitioners be required to pay for the cost of five expert witnesses who had appeared to testify on her behalf on the scheduled trial date but did not testify because the circuit court had granted a motion for continuance made by Petitioners. The circuit court entered an order directing Petitioner to pay Troup for expert-witness costs associated with the continuance of the trial. Petitioners petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition or, in the alternative, a writ of certiorari, against the circuit court, contending that the court exceeded its authority and abused its discretion in ordering them pay the expert-witness costs of Troup. The Supreme Court denied the petitions, as Petitioners had an adequate remedy in the form of an appeal. View "Moore v. Circuit Court" on Justia Law

by
After L.C. died, the probate court appointed his son, Bobby, as special personal representative of L.C.'s estate for the limited purpose of investigating and prosecuting all claims relating to nursing home abuse. On behalf of the estate, Bobby subsequently sued Appellees in a wrongful-death action. During the wrongful-death action proceedings, it was revealed that Bobby was a convicted felon who was not qualified to serve as a special personal representative by law. Bobby filed a motion to substitute his brother Ronnie as special personal representative, which the trial court granted. The probate court, however, later vacated its order appointing Bobby, finding the order was invalid from its inception. At issue on appeal was whether Bobby's acts prior to his removal, including his motion to substitute Ronnie, remained valid. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Bobby's acts as a special personal representative were valid until the date of his removal as special personal representative; and (2) accordingly, the probate court erred by finding that the order of appointment was void ab initio. Remanded. View "Taylor v. MCSA, LLC" on Justia Law

by
L.C. was a nursing home patient when he died. Bobby, L.C.'s son and the special personal representative of L.C.'s estate, filed suit against several nursing home defendants for negligence and medical malpractice. After it was discovered during a deposition that Bobby was a convicted felon and not qualified to serve as special personal representative, the circuit court dismissed with prejudice the complaints against the defendants, concluding that Bobby lacked the authority to act on behalf of the estate because of his disqualification as a felon and that the complaints he filed were nullities. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in ruling that the actions of Bobby were invalid and that the complaints filed by Bobby were nullities. Remanded. View "Taylor v. MCSA, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Blair Stautzenberger served as the guardian of his mother's estate. After her death, two of Blair's siblings, Duane and Michael Stautzenberger, challenged Blair's management of the estate. The trial court disallowed $85,747 of the expenditures that Blair had made, found that Blair's failure to act as a reasonably prudent investor cost the estate $201,587, and made Blair personally liable for Duane and Michael's attorney fees. The court later entered a modified order that made Blair personally liable for the disallowed expenditures, investment losses, and attorney fees. Blair appealed, arguing that the trial court (1) exceeded its authority when it found him personally liable for certain expenditures in the modified order where the original order assigned him no personal liability, and (2) improperly disallowed expenses that contributed to the care and maintenance of his mother. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, holding that the trial court (1) did not err in entering the modified order, as it was within the court's authority to amend the original order; and (2) clearly erred in finding that many of the expenditures made by Blair were improper. View "Stautzenberger v. Stautzenberger" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Diane Ausman, the administrator of the Estate of Daniel Ausman, filed a complaint on August 24, 2009 against a geriatric center and doctor, alleging, among other claims, medical negligence and negligence. Shortly after the suit was filed, Appellant passed away. The attorneys representing Appellant did not learn of her death until May 2011. As a result, the attorneys filed a motion for a continuance of the trial, which was scheduled to begin on July 11, 2011. The parties disputed whether the one-year statute of limitations found in Ark. Code Ann. 16-62-108 was applicable where a special administrator of an estate dies during the pendency of litigation or whether the matter was simply governed by Ark. R. Civ. P. 25's requirement for substitution of parties. The circuit court dismissed the case with prejudice, finding that the Estate improperly failed to revive the action within one year from the date of Appellant's death. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Estate's failure to move for substitution within one year from the time of Appellant's death prevented the revivor of the action. View "Ausman v. Hiram Shaddox Geriatric Ctr." on Justia Law

by
Trustee filed a petition to construe an inter vivos trust, taking the position that the interests of the deceased beneficiaries lapsed because they predeceased the surviving settlor and that Appellants, descendants of the settlor's stepsons, were not entitled to share in the remainder of the trust. The circuit court concluded that a beneficiary's interest lapses if the beneficiary predeceases the settlor under the common law, and therefore, Appellants could not share in the trust because their fathers' interests lapsed when they predeceased the surviving settlor. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the interest of a beneficiary to an inter vivos trust vests at the time the trust is created, and thus the beneficial interest does not lapse when the beneficiary predeceases the settlor; and (2) therefore, the interests of the deceased beneficiaries did not lapse. Remanded. View "Tait v. Cmty. First Trust Co." on Justia Law

by
Mark Smith died after he was taken to the emergency room at Rebsamen Medical Center. Appellants sought to be appointed as co-special administrators of Smith's estate and then filed the instant wrongful-death action. However, the order of appointment was not filed until two days after Appellants filed the action. Appellees moved for summary judgment arguing that the wrongful-death complaint was a nullity as Appellants lacked standing to bring such an action. While the motions were pending, Appellants filed a motion in the probate court seeking entry of a nunc pro tunc order to reflect that the order of appointment had been filed two days before it was actually filed. The probate court entered an order on motion nunc pro tunc. Nevertheless, the circuit court granted Appellees' motions for summary judgment on the basis that the complaint was a nullity because Appellees lacked standing to bring the action at the time of its filing. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the grant of summary judgment was in error, as the circuit court lacked authority to invalidate or disregard the order from the probate division, which established that Appellants had been appointed as administrators prior to the filing of the wrongful-death complaint. Remanded. View "Smith v. Rebsamen Med. Ctr., Inc." on Justia Law

by
At issue in the underlying case was the discharge of by Defendant of the law firm Harrill & Sutter and what attorneys' fees were owed following that discharge. The circuit court ruled that Defendant discharged Harrill for cause and that, as a result, Harrill was entitled to a fee based only on quantum-meruit recovery and not the parties' fee agreement. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's award in quantum-meruit recovery but reversed the circuit court's ruling denying Defendant's request for attorneys' fees on the basis that the circuit court had provided no findings in support of its denial of such fees. On remand, the circuit court found that Defendant was the prevailing party under Arkansas law and granted her attorneys' fees. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded on the issue of attorneys' fees, holding (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Defendant was the prevailing party; but (2) the fee award was not reasonable. View "Harrill & Sutter P.L.L.C. v. Kosin" on Justia Law

by
Appellant, individually and as the administratrix of the Estate of Anne Pressley, filed a complaint against Appellees, a medical center (the Center) and three individuals associated with the Center, alleging claims of invasion of privacy and outrage. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees, holding (1) a claim for invasion of privacy does not survive the death of a decedent; (2) the claim for outrage failed because it was based on the same conduct as the claim for invasion of privacy; and (3) because Appellant's previous two claims failed, the Center could not be held vicariously liable for the conduct of its employees. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part, holding (1) the circuit court did not err in finding that Ark. Code Ann. 16-62-101(a)(1) does not provide for the claim of invasion of privacy to survive the death of the decedent; (2) the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment on Appellant's claim for outrage; and (3) because the judgment was reversed on the outrage claim, the circuit court's finding that the Center could not be held vicariously liable for the conduct of its employees must also be reversed. View "Cannady v. St. Vincent Infirmary Med. Ctr." on Justia Law