Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
Lavastone Capital LLC v. Estate of Beverly E. Berland
In 2001, Lavastone Capital LLC (Lavastone) entered into an agreement with Coventry First LLC (Coventry) to purchase “life settlements” – life-insurance policies sold on the secondary market. One was that of Beverly Berland. Lincoln Financial (Lincoln) issued the policy to Berland in 2006. But Berland did not act alone in acquiring it. A few months before, she approached a business called “Simba.” As Simba pitched it, the transaction allowed clients to “create dollars today by using a paper asset, (a life insurance policy not yet issued from a major insurance carrier insuring your life)” by selling it on the secondary market. Clients did not need to put up any money upfront. Instead, they got nonrecourse loans to finance the transactions, which allowed them to make all necessary payments without tapping into personal funds. The only collateral for the loan was the life-insurance policy itself. Berland agreed to participate in several transactions with Simba, profiting greatly. Lavastone kept the policy in force, paying all relevant premiums to Lincoln Financial. Upon Berland’s death more than seven years later, Lincoln paid Lavastone $5,041,032.06 in death benefits under the policy. In December 2018, Berland’s estate filed a complaint against Lavastone in the District Court, seeking to recover the death benefits that Lavastone received under 18 Del C. 2704(b). In 2020, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In 2021, the District Court certified the three questions of law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The Supreme Court responded: (1) a death-benefit payment made on a policy that is void ab initio under 18 Del. C. 2704(a) and PHL Variable Insurance Co. v. Price Dawe 2006 Insurance Trust was made “under [a] contract” within the meaning of 18 Del. C. 2704(b); (2) so long as the use of nonrecourse funding did not allow the insured or his or her trust to obtain the policy “without actually paying the premiums” and the insured or his or her trust procured or effected the policy in good faith, for a lawful insurance purpose, and not as a cover for a wagering contract; and (3) an estate could profit under 18 Del. C. 2704(b) where the policy was procured in part by fraud on the part of the decedent and the decedent profited from the previous sale of the policy, if the recipient of the policy benefits cannot establish that it was a victim of the fraud. View "Lavastone Capital LLC v. Estate of Beverly E. Berland" on Justia Law
Frederick-Conaway v. Baird
Jesse Frederick-Conaway (“Jesse”) and Janice Russell-Conaway (“Janice”) were the original co-executors of the Estate of Everett T. Conaway (“Conaway”) and cosuccessor trustees of the Everett T. Conaway Revocable Trust (respectively, the “Estate” and the “Trust”). Janice was Conaway's widow, and Jesse was Conaway's adult son from another marriage. After intractable disputes arose, the Court of Chancery removed Janice and Jesse and appointed Kevin M. Baird, Esq. (“Baird”) as an independent successor administrator and trustee. Baird petitioned the court for instructions on whether certain of Jesse and Janice's transactions were proper. The Court of Chancery issued a Rule 54(b) order from which Jesse appealed and Janice cross-appealed. Jesse argued: (1) the Court of Chancery did not properly merge the administration of Conaway's Estate and Trust; and (2) the Court of Chancery erred in holding the Trust's interest in a limited partnership could be used to satisfy specific gifts where that the interest was subject to a contractual restriction on transfer and passed to Jesse as residuary beneficiary of the Trust. Janice's cross-appeal raised a question of whether the Court of Chancery abused its discretion by: (1) finding Janice liable for interest at the legal rate on $150,000 that the court determined she had received properly but prematurely; and (2) finding Janice liable for $77,987 she had improperly removed from the Estate, plus interest at the legal rate. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed those portions of the Court of Chancery's Order: (1) directing Jesse to return the Trust's 69% EJKC Limited Partnership interest, together with all interest and dividends paid thereon, to the Trust, to be treated as part of the residue of the Trust; and (2) finding Janice liable for amounts totaling $77,987 with interest at the legal rate. The Supreme Court reversed the determination that Janice's receipt of $150,000 in deferred payments owed to Conaway was proper. The Court also reversed the portion of the Court of Chancery's Order finding Janice liable for interest at the legal rate (as opposed to a rate applicable to funds on deposit) on the $150,000 she received. View "Frederick-Conaway v. Baird" on Justia Law
Mennen. v. Fiduciary Trust International of Delaware
At issue in this appeal was whether five beneficiaries of a Delaware trust could recover on their $88 million judgment against the individual trust established by a brother to one beneficiary and uncle to the rest. The judgment arose from the trustee's alleged bad faith and willful misconduct in handling the estate. A Master held that a spendthrift clause in the trustee's Trust precluded the beneficiaries from obtaining relief against the Trustee's interest. The Court of Chancery found that the beneficiaries' notice of exceptions to the Master's final report on the spendthrift issue was late, and that they forfeited their right to challenge the ruling. The beneficiaries appealed, arguing the Court of Chancery erred by not considering the merits to the beneficiaries' exceptions to the Master's ruling on the spendthrift issue. View "Mennen. v. Fiduciary Trust International of Delaware" on Justia Law
Matter of: Ethel F. Peierls Charitable Lead Unitrust
Petitions regarding several Peires family Trusts all requested that the Court of Chancery: (1) approve the resignation of the current trustees; (2) confirm the appointment of Northern Trust Company as the sole trustee; (3) determine that Delaware law governed the administration of each Trust; (4) confirm Delaware as the situs for each Trust; (5) reform the trusts' administrative scheme; and (6) accept jurisdiction over the Trusts. The Peierls' Petitions stemmed from their general frustration with Bank of America's lack of communication and responsiveness regarding the handling of Trust assets. Accompanying the Petitions were resignations of the Trusts' current trustees, all expressly conditioned upon approval by the Court of Chancery. The appointment of a new corporate trustee is also expressly conditioned upon approval by the Court of Chancery. In case number 11,2013, the Supreme Court upheld the Vice Chancellor's decision not to address the Petition in so far as it related to the 1960 Trusts, because New Jersey retained primary supervision over those Trusts. The Court held that the Vice Chancellor erred in determining that he could not exercise jurisdiction over the 1969 Trusts and address the Petition's merits. In case 12,2013: The Supreme Court concluded the Vice Chancellor properly concluded that no actual controversy existed relating to the approval of trustee resignations, the appointment of a new corporate trustee, the confirmation of Delaware as the situs, or the declaration that Delaware law governed the administration of the Trust at issue. Furthermore, the Court concluded the Vice Chancellor properly denied the requests to reform the Trust Agreement, and to retain jurisdiction over the Trust. In case 13,2013: because the Trusts were not then-currently being administered in Delaware, there was no basis to conclude that Delaware law would apply to the Trusts' administration. Therefore, whether the Court of Chancery could properly reform the Trust Instruments was a matter governed by the laws of the Trusts' administration. In this case, the laws were of Texas for the 1953 Trusts and New York law for the 1957 and 1975 Trusts. Because the Vice Chancellor properly concluded that he was "not in a position to address the requests for reformation," the Supreme Court affirmed the Vice Chancellor's decision to refrain granting reformation relief. View "Matter of: Ethel F. Peierls Charitable Lead Unitrust" on Justia Law
PHL Variable Ins. Co. v. Price Dawe 2006 Ins. Trust, et al.
In two similar cases, Lincoln National Life Insurance Co. v. Joseph Schlanger Trust (Schlanger) and PHL Variable Insurance Co. v. Price Dawe 2006 Insurance Trust (Dawe), an insurer sought a judicial declaration that a life insurance policy was void as an illegal contract wagering human life that accordingly lacked an insurable interest. The district court denied both motions to dismiss and certified three questions to the Supreme Court of Delaware concerning the incontestability provision under 18 Del. C. 2908 and the insurable interest requirement under 18 Del. C. 2704. The certified question, shared by both Dawe and Schlanger, concerned whether an insurer could claim that a life insurance policy never came into existence, on the basis of a lack of insurable interest, where the challenge occurred after the insurance contract's mandatory contestability period expired. The court answered in the affirmative and held that a life insurance policy lacking an insurable interest was void as against public policy and thus never came into force, making the incontestability provision inapplicable. The second certified question concerned whether the statutory insurable interest requirement was violated where the insured procured a life insurance policy with the intent to immediately transfer the benefit to an individual or entity lacking an insurable interest. The court answered in the negative, so long as the insured procured or effected the policy and the policy was not a mere cover for a wager. The third certified question concerned whether the relevant statutory provisions conferred upon a trustee an insurable interest in the life of the individual insured who established the trust if the insured intended to transfer the beneficial interest in the trust to a third-party investor with no insurable interest. The court answered in the affirmative, as long as the individual insured actually established the trust. If, however, the insured did not create and fund the trust then the relationship contemplated under section 2704(c)(5) was not satisfied.
The Lincoln Nat’l Life Ins. Co. v. Joseph Schlanger 2006 Ins. Trust, et al.
In two similar cases, Lincoln National Life Insurance Co. v. Joseph Schlanger Trust (Schlanger) and PHL Variable Insurance Co. v. Price Dawe 2006 Insurance Trust (Dawe), an insurer sought a judicial declaration that a life insurance policy was void as an illegal contract wagering human life that accordingly lacked an insurable interest. The district court denied both motions to dismiss and certified three questions to the Supreme Court of Delaware concerning the incontestability provision under 18 Del. C. 2908 and the insurable interest requirement under 18 Del. C. 2704. The certified question, shared by both Dawe and Schlanger, concerned whether an insurer could claim that a life insurance policy never came into existence, on the basis of a lack of insurable interest, where the challenge occurred after the insurance contract's mandatory contestability period expired. The court answered in the affirmative and held that a life insurance policy lacking an insurable interest was void as against public policy and thus never came into force, making the incontestability provision inapplicable.