Articles Posted in Estate Planning

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A series of appeals before the Alabama Supreme Court involved a challenge to the disposition of the estate of A.V. Campbell, Sr., who died in 1977. He had at least four children: A.V. Campbell, Jr., William J. Campbell, Sr., Ethel C. Taylor, and Archie Paul Campbell. His will was admitted to probate in 1977; those proceedings languished in the probate court until 2005. During this time, A.V., Jr., and Archie Paul Campbell died. Ethel was ultimately named the executrix of the estate. In 2005, Gladys Campbell, one of Archie Paul Campbell's descendants, filed a petition to remove the probate proceedings to the Baldwin Circuit Court. She alleged, among other things, that Ethel, as the executrix, had failed to have the estate's property devised under the terms of the will. After several hearings, in 2006, the circuit court issued a judgment that, among other things, distributed property according to the testator's will. Specifically, certain property was awarded separately to (1) Ethel, (2) to Paula and Gladys, and (3) to "the heirs at law of William J. Campbell[, Sr.]." Jewel appealed that judgment, and the Supreme Court affirmed without issuing an opinion. In 2009, the underlying action was filed in the Baldwin Circuit Court: plaintiffs purported to be the heirs of William J. Campbell, Sr. Some plaintiffs participated in the 2005 circuit court action; others did not. This new action was described as a "complaint to set aside judicial decree" and was alleged to be filed "pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure as an independent action to set aside the 2006 judgment. The plaintiffs contended that, as the heirs of William J. Campbell, Sr., they were also heirs of A.V. Campbell, Sr., and were thus entitled to certain ownership interests in the property distributed in the 2005 circuit court action. Furthermore, plaintiffs alleged that they had not all been "named as parties" in the 2005 circuit court action at the time of the final adjudication," and "not subject to" and "not bound by" the 2006 judgment, and they asked that it be set aside. After various motions and after granting a motion by the defendants to strike certain affidavit testimony filed by plaintiffs, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Ethel. Plaintiffs appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals dismissed the appeal as being from a nonfinal judgment. Proceedings resumed in the trial court; Ethel and the remaining defendants moved for a summary judgment. In case no. 1110057, plaintiffs appealed the summary judgment in favor of the defendants. In case no. 1110104, Paula and Gladys cross-appealed the trial court's denial of their motion to strike. In case no. 1110057, Jewel Campbell, Acie A. Campbell, William J. Campbell, Jr., Roy J. Campbell, Eva Campbell, William C. Campbell, Kelly Calvert, and Amanda Givens appealed summary judgment in favor of Ethel C. Taylor, Paula Buettner, Gladys A. Campbell, Jason Bennett, and Mendi Bennett. In case no. 1110104, Paula Buettner and Gladys A. Campbell cross-appealed the denial of their motion to strike certain affidavits filed by plaintiffs in opposition to the defendants' summary judgment motion. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in case no. 1110057; its holding in case no. 1110057 rendered moot the cross-appeal in case no. 1110104. View "Campbell et al. v. Taylor et al. " on Justia Law

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After Kim Abbott, a beneficiary of her grandfather’s trust, learned that the trust had become “non-economical,” she filed a complaint against the trustees, alleging that the trustees had breached their fiduciary duties to maintain trust records, to properly inform and report to the beneficiaries, and to administer the trust in good faith. The county court dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the trustees had breached their duty to inform and report but the breach was harmless. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the Court of Appeals (1) did not err in ultimately concluding that the trustees’ breach of their duty was harmless; but (2) erred in concluding that the annual schedule K-1 tax reports were sufficient to reasonably inform beneficiaries of the trust and its administration. Remanded.View "In re Rolf H. Brennemann Testamentary Trust " on Justia Law

Posted in: Estate Planning

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Timothy Betz appealed an amended judgment awarding the trustees of the Emelia Hirsch Trust $5,000 plus interest for attorney fees and costs, and an order denying his post-judgment objection to costs and his request for a hearing. In 1994, the "Emelia Hirsch June 9, 1994, Irrevocable Trust" was created, whose beneficiaries were Emelia Hirsch's three children, Carolyn Twite, Marlene Betz, and Duane Hirsch, and Emelia Hirsch's ten grandchildren, including Timothy Betz. The trust became the source of protracted litigation and has divided the family into two factions, with Emelia Hirsch, Carolyn Twite and her children, and Duane Hirsch and his children contending Emelia Hirsch did not intend to create an irrevocable trust and give up control of her property during her lifetime. Marlene Betz and her children, including Timothy Betz, claimed the trust was irrevocable and they were entitled to benefits under the terms of the trust. In 2003, Emelia Hirsch petitioned to dissolve the trust. After further proceedings, Carolyn Twite and Duane Hirsch moved in April 2008 to reform the trust from an irrevocable trust to a revocable trust, with Emelia Hirsch retaining control over the trust property. The district court thereafter granted reformation of the trust after allowing the Betz faction further opportunity to comment or object to the reformation. Upon review of Timothy Betz's appeal of the district court decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the amended judgment and the order denying Betz's objection. The Court directed him to pay attorney fees in the amount of $1,000 plus double costs for his frivolous appeal. View "Matter of Emelia Hirsch Trust" on Justia Law

Posted in: Estate Planning

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A daughter was appointed special guardian for her parents. Two lawyers entered an appearance on behalf of the parents and alleged that the parents had selected them as nominated counsel. The daughter sought to be named guardian and then a nephew and niece of the parents sought to be named guardians. Upon agreement of the parties an independent guardian was named. Hearings were held and an order issued that: (1) rejected the two lawyers as nominated counsel for the parents; and (2) denied a motion to reconsider a previous denial of a motion for unsupervised visitation by the nephew and niece and change of guardian to the nephew and niece. The allegedly nominated attorneys commenced an appeal which the Supreme Court retained. The trial court also denied a motion for emergency relief to change supervised visitation. A request for extraordinary relief from supervised visitations was filed during the appeal and the request was consolidated with the appeal. Subpoenas duces tecum were quashed relating to the wards' trusts. An additional request for extraordinary relief was filed during the pendency of the appeal based upon the order quashing the subpoenas, and we treat that proceeding as a companion case. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court held that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court's decision that nominated counsel had a conflict of interest and were not independent, and that Petitioners failed to show that the trial court committed an abuse of discretion or acted in excess of its authority when it denied an emergency motion to modify the supervised visitation, and that while the trial court incorrectly ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to issue subpoenas duces tecum to a trustee of a ward's trust, it must hold a hearing on the objections to the discovery request and adjudicate which parties are entitled to participate in the discovery and determine whether a sustainable objection to discovery exists pursuant to the Discovery Code. View "In the Matter of the Guardianship of Berry" on Justia Law

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Ralph Greb died in 2010. At issue in this case was the distribution of Ralph’s estate in kind to two beneficiaries, his son, Richard, and his daughter, Nanette. The county court overruled Richard’s and Nanette’s objections and approved the proposed distribution of the estate. Nanette appealed and Richard cross-appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed the county court’s order of distribution, holding (1) two multiple-party bank accounts were correctly excluded from the probate estate because Nanette failed to meet her burden of proving a lack of survivorship rights; (2) because a corporation dissolved by the state for failure to pay taxes continued as a de facto corporation, Ralph’s gifts of corporate stock during his lifetime were not part of his probate estate; and (3) because Nanette was not obligated to pay indebtedness owed to the estate by her spouse, the county court did not err in ordering distribution of the asset in kind to both Richard and Nanette.View "In re Estate of Greb" on Justia Law

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Powell was adjudicated a disabled adult due to severe mental disabilities in 1997. His parents, Perry and Leona, were appointed as co-guardians of Powell’s person, but were not appointed as guardians of his estate. In 1999, Perry died following surgery. Leona engaged the Wunsch law firm to bring a claim against the doctors and hospital, Leona was appointed special administratrix of Perry’s estate. Wunsch filed a complaint under the Wrongful Death Act on behalf of Leona individually and as administratrix estate. The estate’s only asset was the lawsuit. A 2005 settlement, after attorney fees and costs, amounted to $15,000, which was distributed equally between Leona, Emma (the couple’s daughter) and Powell. The settlement order provided that Powell’s share was to be paid to Leona on Powell’s behalf. Leona placed both shares into a joint account. The probate court was not notified. Wunsch had referred the action to attorney Webb, for continued litigation. Emma waived her rights under a second settlement, Leona and Powell each received $118,000. A check was deposited into the joint account. The order did not provide that Powell’s was to be administered under supervision of the probate court and Powell did not have a guardian of his estate. Wunsch purportedly advised that it was “too much trouble” to go through the probate court for funds every time Leona needed money for Powell. In 2008, Emma petitioned to remove Leona as guardian of Powell’s person. The probate court appointed Emma as guardian of Powell’s person and the public guardian as guardian of his estate. Leona had withdrawn all but $26,000 and provided no accounting. The public guardian sued the attorneys and Leona. The trial court dismissed as to the attorneys, finding that the complaint failed to sufficiently allege defendants owed Powell a duty and to allege proximate cause. The appellate court determined that an attorney retained by a special administrator of an estate to bring a wrongful death action for the benefit of the surviving spouse and next of kin owed a fiduciary duty to those beneficiaries and remanded, with respect to the second settlement. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re the Estate of Powell" on Justia Law

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Appellants Heritage Healthcare of Ridgeway, LLC, Uni-Health Post-Acute Care - Tanglewood, LLC (Tanglewood), and UHS-Pruitt Corporation (collectively, Appellants) ask this Court to reverse the circuit court's denial of their motion to compel arbitration in this wrongful death and survival action involving Appellants' allegedly negligent nursing home care. Tanglewood is a skilled nursing facility located in Ridgeway, owned and controlled by Appellants. In January 2007, Tanglewood and Respondent Darlene Dean entered into a nursing home residency agreement in which Tanglewood assumed responsibility for the care of Respondent's mother, Louise Porter (the patient). The same day, Respondent signed a separate, voluntary arbitration agreement. The patient did not sign either the residency agreement or the Agreement on her own behalf, although she was competent at the time of her admission to Tanglewood. Moreover, Respondent did not have a health care power of attorney empowering her to sign on the patient's behalf. In 2009, the patient fell three separate times within a ten day period, fracturing her hip in the third fall. Over the next two months, the patient underwent two hip surgeries; however, due to complications following the surgeries, the patient died on September 30, 2009. In late 2011, Respondent (acting in her capacity as personal representative of her mother's estate) filed a Notice of Intent (NOI) to file a medical malpractice suit against Appellants, as well as an expert affidavit in support of her NOI. Respondent also alleged claims for survival and wrongful death. In lieu of filing an answer to the complaint, Appellants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and (6), SCRCP, or, in the alternative, a motion to compel arbitration and stay the litigation. Relying on "Grant v. Magnolia Manor-Greenwood, Inc.," (678 S.E.2d 435 (2009)), the circuit court invalidated the Agreement in its entirety and refused to compel arbitration between the parties. Appellants filed a motion to reconsider, which the circuit court denied. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that Respondent's argument that Appellants' waived their right to enforce the Agreement was without merit. On remand, the Supreme Court mandated that the circuit court consider her remaining arguments (concerning Respondent's authority to sign the Agreement and whether there was a meeting of the minds between the parties) prior to deciding whether to compel arbitration between the parties. View "Dean v. Heritage Healthcare" on Justia Law

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Ruth married Donald on the same day that she executed a will. Ruth died the following day. Donald was appointed personal representative, and the will was informally admitted to probate. Jennifer, Ruth’s daughter, filed a petition for a formal adjudication of intestacy and for her appointment as personal representative, alleging that Ruth lacked the capacity to execute the will. The probate court denied Jennifer’s petition and admitted the will to probate, concluding that Donald sustained his burden of showing due execution of the will and that Jennifer failed to prove the absence of testamentary capacity by a preponderance of the evidence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the probate court did not err in its evidentiary rulings and did not err in finding that Ruth had the requisite testamentary capacity to execute a will.View "Estate of O'Brien-Hamel" on Justia Law

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The State of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Finance, and the Comptroller of the State of Alabama, nonparties to the underlying action, appealed a circuit court order denying the State's motion to intervene as of right. Mrs. Frances Ann Yarbrough died intestate with no heirs that were in the line of descendant distribution. As a result, her assets escheated to the State of Alabama. The Supreme Court ordered the Estate to pay certain expenses of the Estate, and then to pay the balance of the Estate's funds to the State of Alabama. In that same order, the Court ordered the State of Alabama to pay the escheated funds to the St. Clair County's Circuit Clerk's office to be used by the Clerk 'to rehire some of the employees lost to proration.' The State, through its counsel Mr. Bledsoe, stated that the Estate's escheated funds must be used or applied in furtherance of education in accordance with the Alabama Constitution.Through counsel, Mr. Bledsoe, declared that there was no objection to disbursing the Estate's escheated assets to the Pell City Board of Education and the St. Clair County Board of Education. Based on that representation, the Estate moved the Supreme Court to Alter, Amend, or Vacate its earlier order to direct the State to pay the Estate's escheated assets to the Pell City Board of Education and the St. Clair County Board of Education. The State objected to the Supreme Court's order. In turn, the Supreme Court treated the objection as a Motion to Alter, Amend, or Vacate, filed it with the circuit clerk, and set the matter for a hearing. Because the State was not a party to this matter, the State did not receive direct notice of the hearing. The Estate's counsel, Ms. Williams, however, provided the State notice of the hearing by e-mail to Mr. Bledsoe. The State did not appear at the hearing, and the Supreme Court denied the relief requested by the State. The circuit court then denied the State's motion to intervene. Because the circuit court failed to follow the Supreme Court's order, it reversed the circuit court's order denying the State's motion to intervene. "The circuit court exceeded its authority in attempting to appropriate the escheated funds." All issues having been decided on both the motion to intervene and the underlying action, a judgment was rendered for the State. View "Alabama et al. v. Estate Yarbrough" on Justia Law

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The administrators of Decedent’s estate listed residential real estate for sale. Decedent’s common law spouse objected to the proposed sale, claiming it was her marital home. The district court recognized the surviving spouses’s common law rights but nonetheless approved the sale. The buyers took possession and made improvements to the home. Thereafter, the court of appeals reversed and remanded for consideration of the homestead interest of the spouse. On remand, the district court gave the surviving spouse the option of taking possession of the home upon paying the buyers a substantial part of the cost of their improvements to the home or receiving the proceeds from the estate’s sale of the real estate. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding (1) the surviving spouse could retake possession upon payment of the approximate value of the home before the improvements were made less any credit to which she was entitled from the buyers for rent during the period the spouse had been dispossessed; and (2) the spouse could transfer title to the buyers and receive the proceeds from the estate’s sale of the home plus credit for rent from the date of the conveyance to the buyers until the date of judgment.View "In re Estate of Waterman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Estate Planning