Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Idaho Supreme Court - Civil
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This appeal arose from an action in which the personal representative of the Estate of Victoria Smith (the “Personal Representative”) sought to eject Riverside Farms, LLC, (“Riverside”) from its real property, referred to by the parties as the “Chinden Property,” after the term of Riverside’s lease expired. Riverside argued that the Personal Representative lacked standing to bring the ejectment action because it was not the true owner of the land. The Personal Representative was earlier granted ownership of the “Chinden Property” pursuant to a Rule 70(b) judgment issued during the probate proceedings following Victoria’s death. Riverside argued that the Rule 70(b) judgment was barred by res judicata because a prior action, which concerned removal of trees along an easement on the property, had already confirmed that the Personal Representative was not the true owner of the Chinden Property. The district court determined that ejectment of Riverside was proper because the dismissal of the prior case did not preclude the Rule 70(b) judgment issued in the probate case. Riverside filed a motion asking the district court to reconsider its decision, but the district court declined to do so. Riverside appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court, arguing that the denial of its motion to reconsider was in error and renewing its argument that the personal representative lacked standing to seek removal of Riverside from the property because the Rule 70(b) judgment was barred by res judicata. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Elsaesser v. Riverside Farms, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a family dispute concerning ownership interests in Nelsen Farms, LLC (“LLC”). The LLC, as originally established, included equal ownership for two of the Nelsen’s sons, Jack S. and Jonathan. However, in 2015, Jack H. Nelsen (“Jack H.”) and Joan Nelsen modified their estate plans and decided to pass their interests in the LLC to Jonathan via an inter vivos transfer, rather than through their wills. In August 2017, members of the LLC held a special meeting, during which the transfer of the membership interest to Jonathan was approved. The next month, Jack S., his wife and son, and Jack S.’s sister Janice Lehman, filed a complaint against Jack H., Joan and Jonathan alleging Jack H. and Joan were incompetent and lacked testamentary capacity to modify their 2015 wills and to make the 2017 inter vivos conveyance. Appellants also alleged Jonathan unduly influenced Jack H. and Joan to obtain the estate modification. Appellants amended their complaint in October 2017, adding a claim for dissolution of the LLC. The district court ultimately granted summary judgment to Respondents and dismissed all of Appellants’ claims. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court in all respects save one: dissolution of the LLC. To this, the Court held that when the district court granted dissolution on summary judgment, Jack S. was ipso facto deprived of his membership interest and relegated to the status of economic interest holder, without the right to petition for dissolution since, under the statute, only members could do so. Jack S. was reinstated as a member of the LLC, and had the right to seek dissolution upon remand. View "Nelsen v. Nelsen" on Justia Law

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The issue in this appeal concerned a dispute among stepsiblings over the remnant of their parents’ estates, which consisted of approximately 26 acres of real property in Canyon County, Idaho. Alva and Thelma Garrett married in 1976, creating a blended family consisting of Alva’s four children and Thelma’s three children. They later executed reciprocal wills which, upon the death of the first spouse, left all of their property to the survivor. They also signed a contract in which they agreed that upon the death of the surviving spouse, the survivor’s remaining property would be divided among the seven children in equal shares. When Alva died, Thelma created a living trust and conveyed certain real property into the name of the trust. Upon Thelma’s death, the real property in trust was distributed to Thelma’s daughter, Cynthia Swartz, and her husband, James Swartz. Thelma’s estate was never probated. Several years later, Alva’s Children sued the Swartzes, the trust, and “the Estate of Thelma V. Garrett”, alleging that Thelma had breached the terms of the will contract. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Swartzes, holding that Thelma’s conveyance of the real property to the trust did not breach the contract. The district court also awarded the Swartzes attorney fees. Alva’s Children timely appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court found that Alva's children's claim was precluded by state law: "Although the merits of this case center on whether Thelma breached the Will Contract, we do not reach the merits of the breach of contract claim on appeal because we conclude that this case was brought in violation of Idaho Code section 15-3-104. Thus, we can affirm the district court’s decision on alternate grounds." View "Martin v. Garrett Living Trust" on Justia Law

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Appellants sued Respondents over alleged self-dealing and other purported breaches of fiduciary duty in the administration of a trust. Respondents argued that proceedings in Idaho were improper under the provisions of Title 15, chapter 7 of the Idaho Code (the “trust code”) because they alleged that the principal place of the Trust’s administration was in Indiana. The district court agreed and dismissed Appellants’ complaint. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court erred in granting the motion to dismiss. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Allen v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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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