Articles Posted in Georgia Supreme Court

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The testator's daughter challenges the propounder's petition to probate a copy of the testator's will. The Probate Court found that the propounder was unable to overcome the presumption that the testator intended to revoke the will created when the original will could not be found. Because there was evidence supporting the probate court's finding, the Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the petition to probate. View "Britt v. Sands" on Justia Law

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Lonnie L. Michael died in 2010. He had executed a will in 2002. The original of that will could not be found. Nevertheless, Michael King Fitzgerald, who was named executor in the 2002 will, offered a copy of the will for probate in solemn form, requesting that it be admitted to probate upon proper proof. Danny Johnson, Michael Gwirtz, and Patricia Gwirtz, the Testator's heirs at law, filed a caveat, asserting that the 2002 will had been revoked by the Testator's subsequent destruction of it. After hearing evidence and argument, the probate court admitted the will to probate. Caveators appealed to the superior court, and the case was tried before a jury, which found in favor of the propounded will, which the trial court then admitted to probate in solemn form. After the denial of their motion for new trial, Caveators appealed to the Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Johnson v. Fitzgerald" on Justia Law

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In May 2009, Hubert H. Johnson made a new will, in which he devised his most substantial asset (a 350-acre pecan farm) to Donna Ellis Burrell. He died a few weeks later, and Donna promptly filed a petition to probate the will. Two of his kin filed caveats, alleging that Donna had exerted undue influence upon Hubert with respect to the making of that will, and alleging that Donna had made false statements to Hubert, upon which he relied in making the will. The probate court awarded summary judgment to Donna, and the caveators appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Johnson v. Burrell" on Justia Law

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The remainder beneficiaries of the revocable marital trust created by the wife of Charles Howard Candler III sued Reliance Trust Company, co-trustee of the trust, for breach of trust. They alleged that after the death of the settlor, Reliance made improper distributions from the corpus of the trust to Mr. Candler, who was the life beneficiary. The remainder beneficiaries alleged these improper distributions significantly diminished the value of the trust and thereby damaged them in an amount equal to the improper distributions. The case was tried and the jury found that while Reliance did not act in bad faith, it otherwise found in favor of the remainder beneficiaries. The trial court entered final judgment on the verdict and also awarded the remainder beneficiaries pre-judgment interest, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. Reliance petitioned for certiorari, contending that the Court of Appeals erred when it upheld the jury's verdict in favor of the remainder beneficiaries and when it affirmed the trial court's award of interest. Finding only that the remainder beneficiaries were entitled to interest on the damages awarded only from the state of the life beneficiary's death, the Supreme Court vacated the trial court's award of interest. The case was remanded for recalculation of interest on damages, but otherwise affirmed the trial court in all other respects. View "Reliance Trust Co. v. Candler" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, the Superior Court granted partial summary judgment to Joan Hasty Castleberry and denied summary judgment to her brother William Hasty, Jr., with respect to Joan's claims against her brother for his actions as executor of their parents' estate. Upon careful consideration of the trial court record, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision to award summary judgment to Joan on the question whether William acted under a conflict of interest simply by serving as Trustee of the Marital Trust while at the same time serving as co-chair of the Reinhardt Capital Campaign Committee. The Court affirmed the trial court in all other respects, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Hasty v. Castleberry" on Justia Law

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John Huscusson died leaving three adult daughters as heirs of his estate: Tina Banner, Deborah Vandeford and Karen Nee. In his will, Huscusson specifically revoked his previous will, which had been executed in 2006 and had provided that Huscusson's daughters were to share equally in the estate. The 2012 will named Banner as executrix. It provided that Huscusson was "extremely disappointed" in Vandeford and Nee and that each of them was to receive a specific bequest in the amount of $10. Banner was not given a specific bequest. Vandeford and Nee filed a declaratory judgment action seeking an interpretation of the will. Following a hearing, the probate court determined that the will was plain and unambiguous; that it did not contain a residue clause; and that, therefore, the lapsed gift of the residue must pass by intestacy. Banner appealed and after review, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Banner v. Vandeford" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted interlocutory appeal by caveators to determine the validity of the self-proving affidavit attached to the testator's will. The Court found that the affidavit did not substantially comply with the requirements of a self-proving affidavit under OCGA 53-4-24. Accordingly, the Court reversed the superior court's conclusion which held otherwise. View "Martina v. Elrod" on Justia Law

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Barbara Ann Odom appealed a judgment that sustained a caveat to a will, entered after a jury found that the propounded will was invalid due to lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, fraud, or monomania. Finding no error in the trial court's conclusion, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Odom v. Hughes " on Justia Law

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Appellants Lisa Norton and Beth Simmons filed a caveat to their father Charles Norton's will, claiming undue influence. The caveat was rejected, and the Supreme Court affirmed. Appellants then filed a declaratory judgment action to determine what effect the will's in terrorem clause had upon their rights under the will. The trial court found appellants had no rights under the will. Appellants challenged the trial court's finding, arguing that the clause in question was incorrectly interpreted, and though the clause may have eliminated their specific devises, it did not affect their ability to inherit under a residuary clause. Finding no misinterpretation in the trial court's decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Norton v. Norton" on Justia Law

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In a previous case, the Supreme Court determined that Robert Emory White (Robert), Myron James White (Myron), and Gary Gerrard, Robert's attorney, were entitled to a writ of mandamus requiring the trial court to allow them to file notices of appeal in this case regarding the administration of the estates of Robert L. White and Florence L. White, who were once married. This appeal was the result of the grant of that mandamus relief. The primary issue on appeal in this case was whether the trial court correctly found that the proceeds from the sale of certain real property held by a trust created by Robert L. White should have been distributed wholly to Marvin Terry White (Terry). Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed: "Through various arguments in these related appeals, Robert and Myron [argued] that [the trustee] violated her fiduciary duties by asking the trial court to ratify the distribution of any Trust property to Terry and that, by doing so, the trial court misinterpreted the Trust. An analysis of the facts of this case and the language of the Trust indicate that the trial court did not err. Robert and Myron contend, nonetheless, that, because the Trust refers only to three named children at certain points and the surviving children at others with the use of different articles of speech, the Trust evinces an unequivocal intent by Robert L. White that only his three older children take under the Trust. It does not. At best, it creates an ambiguity, and, as pointed out above and in the trial court's order, the law favors the ascertainment of class members at the death of the settlor." With regard to any remaining claims, the Court found no error in the trial court's rulings. View "White v. Call" on Justia Law