Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Idaho Supreme Court - Civil
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Cases consolidated for review by the Idaho Supreme Court were appeals of three separate judgments ejecting three non-beneficiary parties from the property of an estate. The personal representative of the Estate of Victoria H. Smith (“the Estate”) brought three separate ejectment actions against the Law Office of Vernon K. Smith, LLC, and Vernon K. Smith Law, PC (collectively “VK Law”); David R. Gibson; and Vernon K. Smith, III (“Vernon III”), after each party refused his demands to vacate their respectively occupied properties. None of the parties were beneficiaries of the Estate. The district courts granted partial judgment on the pleadings in favor of the personal representative in all three actions, entering separate judgments ejecting Gibson, Vernon III, and VK Law from the Estate’s properties. On appeal, Appellants raised numerous issues relating to the personal representative’s authority to eject them from the properties. Ford Elsaesser, the personal representative of the Estate, argued on appeal that the district courts did not err in granting partial judgment on the pleadings because he had sufficient power over Estate property to bring an ejectment action on the Estate’s behalf. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Elsaesser v. Gibson" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a district court’s alleged failure to follow the Idaho Supreme Court’s holding in Frizzell v. DeYoung, 415 P.3d 341 (2018) ("Frizzell I") after remand. In Frizzell I, the Supreme Court held that an agreement entered into pursuant to the Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act (“TEDRA”), Idaho Code sections 15-8-101, et seq., by Donald Frizzell and Edwin and Darlene DeYoung was only enforceable to the extent that it settled past claims. As a result, the provisions that purported to exculpate Edwin from liability for future negligence or breaches of fiduciary duty after the agreement was executed were deemed void as against public policy. In this appeal, Frizzell argued that after the case was remanded, the district court failed to follow the law of the case by erroneously allowing the DeYoungs to introduce evidence, testimony, and argument concerning conduct that occurred before the agreement was executed. Frizzell also claimed the district court abused its discretion in awarding the DeYoungs attorney fees without considering the factors in Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 54(e). Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Frizzell v. DeYoung" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the probate of Eric Milo Hirning’s will, and concerned a magistrate court’s authority to conduct formal probate proceedings and approve an estate’s final accounting and distribution. Three beneficiaries of the will, appellants Cindy Louise Uzzle, John E. White, and Jody Hirning, challenged the procedural grounds of the district court’s decision on appeal, the propriety of a magistrate court’s order approving the estate’s final accounting and proposed distribution, and the district court’s award of attorney’s fees. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court found no reversible error except that neither party should have been awarded costs or attorney's fees. View "Uzzle v. Estate of Hirning" on Justia Law

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Attorney Craig Wise appealed a district court’s determination that he breached a duty of care owed to Billy Kyser, Jr., as a beneficiary of Carolyn Kyser’s will. Wise represented Billy’s mother, Carolyn, in divorce proceedings from Bill Kyser, Sr., and in preparing a will that bequeathed her entire estate in equal shares to Billy and his brother Brent Kyser. As part of the divorce proceedings, and before Carolyn’s will was completed, Carolyn and Bill Sr. executed a property settlement agreement in which Bill Sr. and Carolyn agreed to retain sequential life estates in the family home, with the remainder going to Brent and Billy as tenants in common upon the death of the last surviving parent. Wise prepared a deed memorializing the terms of the property settlement agreement. After Bill Sr. and Carolyn both passed away, Brent retained Wise to represent him as the personal representative of Carolyn’s estate. Brent also hired Wise independently to prepare a quitclaim deed transferring Billy’s interest in the home to Brent. Wise sent the deed to Billy, who then executed it. David Kalb, Billy’s court-appointed conservator, then filed a malpractice suit against Wise. After a court trial, the district court held Wise breached the duty he owed to Billy as a beneficiary of Carolyn’s will by preparing the deed because it frustrated Carolyn’s testamentary intent that her estate be divided equally between her two sons. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed the district court’s legal determination that Wise owed Billy a duty of care when Wise was acting as counsel for the personal representative of Carolyn’s estate, Brent. "Although Wise owed Billy a duty of care in drafting and executing Carolyn’s will, the district court impermissibly extended that duty by requiring that Wise ensure an asset outside the probate estate complied with Carolyn’s intent in her will." View "Kalb v. Wise" on Justia Law

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In the summer of 2014, Mark and Jennifer Porcello sought to purchase property In Hayden Lake, Idaho. After making various pre-payments, the amount the couple was still short on a downpayment. Mark and Jennifer could not qualify for a conventional loan themselves. They hoped another property in Woodinville, Washington, owned by Mark’s parents, in which Mark and Jennifer claimed an interest, could be sold to assist in the purchase of the Hayden Lake property. In an effort to help Mark and Jennifer purchase the property, Mark’s parents, Annie and Tony Porcello, obtained financing through a non-conventional lender. "In the end, the transaction became quite complicated." Annie and Tony’s lawyer drafted a promissory note for Mark and Jennifer to sign which equaled the amount Annie and Tony borrowed. In turn, Mark signed a promissory note and deed of trust for the Hayden Lake house, in the same amount and with the same repayment terms as the loan undertaken by his parents. In mid-2016, Annie and Tony sought non-judicial foreclosure on the Hayden Lake property, claiming that the entire balance of the note was due and owing. By this time Mark and Jennifer had divorced; Jennifer still occupied the Hayden Lake home. In response to the foreclosure proceeding, Jennifer filed suit against her former in-laws seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction, arguing that any obligation under the note had been satisfied in full when the Woodinville property sold, notwithstanding the language of the note encumbering the Hayden Lake property. Annie and Tony filed a counter-claim against Jennifer and a third-party complaint against Mark. A district court granted Jennifer’s request for a declaratory judgment. However, by this time, Annie and Tony had died and their respective estates were substituted as parties. The district court denied the estates’ request for judicial foreclosure, and dismissed their third-party claims against Mark. The district court held that the Note and Deed of Trust were latently ambiguous because the amount of the Note was more than twice the amount Mark and Jennifer needed in order to purchase the Hayden Lake property. Because the district court concluded the note and deed of trust were ambiguous, it considered parol evidence to interpret them. Ultimately, the district court found the Note and Deed of Trust conveyed the Hayden Lake property to Jennifer and Mark “free and clear” upon the sale of the Woodinville property. Annie’s and Tony’s estates timely appealed. Finding that the district court erred in finding a latent ambiguity in the Note and Deed of Trust, and that the district court's interpretation of the Note and Deed of Trust was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Porcello v. Estates of Porcello" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Jack K. Davis (“Jack Sr.”) and Jeanne H. Davis created the Davis Family Trust (“Trust”), of which they were the grantors, trustees, and primary beneficiaries. The Trust was revocable until either Jack Sr. or Jeanne died, at which time it would become irrevocable. Upon the death of the surviving grantor, the Trust would terminate and the property would be divided equally among Jack Sr. and Jeanne’s three children: John (Jack) Davis (“Jack”), Greg Davis, and Drinda Ann Bell. The Trust became irrevocable in 2003 when Jack Sr. died. Nearly thirteen years later, Greg filed a complaint against his mother Jeanne, and his siblings Jack and Drinda, demanding: (1) an accounting and removal of trustees; (2) an order enjoining the expenditure of any funds; and (3) the appointment of a receiver. The magistrate court denied Greg’s motion to compel an accounting, finding that Greg and his siblings were “contingent residual beneficiaries” who did not have any rights relative to the Trust until Jeanne’s death. On intermediate appeal, the district court reversed, holding the magistrate court failed to give due consideration to the distinction between revocable and irrevocable trusts. The district court held Greg’s rights vested at the time the Trust became irrevocable when Jack Sr. died in 2003. The district court remanded the case for further proceedings. Jack appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court, but finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Davis v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Michael D. Ferguson was initially excluded as a beneficiary from his parents’ marital trust (the Original Trust). Years later, Michael's mother, Sybil Ferguson, essentially reversed Michael's exclusion by exercising a power of appointment in her will, designating Michael Ferguson as a beneficiary of the Survivor’s Trust - a sub-trust of the Original Trust. When Sybil died, Michael petitioned the magistrate court for financial records, including records from the Original Trust, to determine whether he would receive his full share of the Survivor’s Trust. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which the magistrate court denied in part and granted in part. Both parties appealed to the district court. The district court affirmed the magistrate court’s decision in part and reversed in part. The district court held that the magistrate court erred in concluding that Michael did not become a beneficiary of the Survivor’s Trust until his mother’s death, concluding that he became a beneficiary the moment his mother named him as a beneficiary more than one year before her death. Further, the district court held that the magistrate court erred in refusing to apply the Original Trust’s no-contest provision, removing Michael as a beneficiary. The issues this case presented for the Idaho Supreme Court's review centered on: the fiduciary duties of a trustee who had discretion to spend the trust’s principal, the scope of records available to a trust beneficiary under Idaho Code section 15-7-303, and the enforceability of a trust instrument’s no-contest provision. The Supreme Court concluded the district court erred: (1) in holding Sybil Ferguson did not owe Michael a fiduciary duty under the Trust Agreement; (2) in failing to address whether Michael was entitled to Original Trust allocation records pursuant to Idaho Code section 15-7-303; (3) in enforcing the forfeiture provision before addressing whether the Successor Trustees breached their fiduciary duties in administering the Survivor’s Trust; and (4) in failing to address the magistrate court's ruling denying Michael's motion to compel discovery. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ferguson v. Ferguson" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from Carol McCoy Brown’s petition for an elective share of her decedent husband’s augmented estate. When Michael Orion Brown (the decedent) died intestate, she discovered that he had set aside multiple payable on death (POD) accounts for his children and grandchildren from a prior marriage. Carol filed a petition to recover a portion of the POD funds as part of the decedent’s augmented estate. The decedent’s children, Dorraine Pool and Michael J. Brown (the Heirs), challenged the petition. The magistrate court denied Carol's petition, concluding that she had not met her burden of demonstrating that the POD funds were quasi-community property as required by the elective share statutes. Carol appealed to the district court, which affirmed the magistrate court’s denial of the petition, and granted the Heirs attorney fees. Still aggrieved, Carol sought certiorari review by the Idaho Supreme Court. But finding no reversible error in either of the lower courts' decisions, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Believing that she would be inheriting half of her father’s estate, Deann Turcott and her husband spent considerable time and money making improvements on the father’s land. However, the father subsequently changed his will and left Deann nothing. Deann filed suit seeking quantum meruit damages for the work she had performed. The district court held that quantum meruit damages were not appropriate and awarded damages under a theory of unjust enrichment. Deann appealed the district court’s award of unjust enrichment damages as inadequate. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Turcott v. Estate of Clarence D. Bates" on Justia Law

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Believing that she would be inheriting half of her father’s estate, Deann Turcott and her husband spent considerable time and money making improvements on the father’s land. However, the father subsequently changed his will and left Deann nothing. Deann filed suit seeking quantum meruit damages for the work she had performed. The district court held that quantum meruit damages were not appropriate and awarded damages under a theory of unjust enrichment. Deann appealed the district court’s award of unjust enrichment damages as inadequate. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Turcott v. Estate of Clarence D. Bates" on Justia Law