Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Maine Supreme Judicial Court
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In the State of Maine v. Dale F. Thistle, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld the conviction of Dale Thistle, an attorney, for theft by misapplication of property. Thistle was hired by Donna Friend, personal representative of the estate of Gilman Friend, to explore a potential wrongful death suit against emergency responders. Thistle negotiated a settlement of $390,000, which he deposited into his Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Account (IOLTA). Thistle then misappropriated the funds, failing to distribute the owed amount to Gilman's children, and instead frequently withdrawing money for personal expenses.Thistle appealed his conviction on several grounds, including that the trial court erred by not granting his motion for acquittal due to a statute of limitations defense, the court erred in its instructions to the jury on the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, the State committed prosecutorial error, and that the evidence was insufficient to convict him.The Supreme Judicial Court rejected all of Thistle's arguments. The court found that Thistle had waived his statute of limitations defense by admitting facts that tolled the limitations period. The court also held that the prosecutor's statements during closing arguments did not constitute error. Finally, the court ruled that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that Thistle intentionally or recklessly failed to pay the settlement funds to Gilman's children and used the money as his own, thereby committing theft by misapplication of property. View "State v. Thistle" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court was called to determine issues regarding the distribution of assets under a will and trust, and personal jurisdiction. The case arose from a dispute between two brothers, John R. Luongo and Michael A. Luongo Jr., regarding their mother's estate and a trust she established. The Superior Court had previously divided the property of the estate between the brothers and dismissed two counts of John's complaint, arguing that it could not exercise personal jurisdiction over Michael.Upon review, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court determined that the Superior Court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to distribute the assets under the will and the related trust. The authority to resolve disputes over the distribution of assets under a will rests solely with the Probate Court. Therefore, the court vacated the lower court's order distributing the assets of the estate.Regarding personal jurisdiction, the court found that the Superior Court correctly concluded that it did not have personal jurisdiction over Michael for claims related to the trust. This was due to the fact that the trust was established as a Massachusetts trust with its principal place of administration in Massachusetts and the process to transfer the trust’s administration to Maine was not completed by either trustee.The court affirmed the dismissal of Counts 1 and 3 of John’s complaint, related to the trust, but vacated the judgment in all other respects, including Michael’s counterclaim for conversion. The case was remanded for dismissal of the remaining counts of John’s complaint and Michael’s counterclaim for conversion. View "Luongo v. Luongo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed Jean Voelker's appeal of a judgment of the probate court concluding that a document proffered by Voelker as the last will and testament of Theodore Ackley (the Decedent) was not a valid holographic will, holding that this appeal was an improper interlocutory appeal.Joseph Ackley, the Decedent's son, filed an application for informal probate of the Decedent's last will and testament. Thereafter, Voelker filed a petition for formal probate and submitted the petition of a purported copy of the Decedent's holographic will. The probate court granted Ackley's motion for judgment as a matter of law, finding that the document was not a valid holographic will. The court, however, did not render a decision on Voelker's counter-motion for judgment as a matter of law arguing that the document she submitted was valid as a holographic will. Voelker appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed the appeal brought from the probate court's interlocutory order, holding that the order was not a final judgment, and therefore, the appeal must be dismissed. View "Estate of Theodore C. Ackley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated a portion of the summary judgment entered by the superior court in this action related to the estate of Patricia Spofford, the mother of Michael Zani and Peter Zani, holding that the Zanis' claim for declaratory judgment was not properly before the superior court.The Zanis brought this lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that Spofford lacked testamentary capacity when she executed her will and claiming that Kathryn Read committed fraud when she swore that Spofford had testamentary capacity at the time of the will's execution. The superior court entered partial summary judgment for Defendants. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order in part, holding (1) the claim for declaratory judgment was within the probate court's exclusive jurisdiction and was not properly before the superior court; and (2) the Zanis failed to establish a prima case for at least one element of their fraud claim. View "Zani v. Zani" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the district court dismissing Key Bank National Association's complaint for foreclosure because the debtor or the debtor's estate was a necessary party and was not participating in the action, holding that neither the debtor nor the debtor's estate was a necessary party to the action.The debtor borrowed money from KeyBank and executed a promissory note for the loan. After the debtor died intestate the property at issue passed by operation of law to the debtor's wife as a surviving joint tenant. After the note went into default the wife conveyed the property to a third party. Thereafter, embank filed a complaint for foreclosure of the property against the debtor's wife and estate, as well as third party. The trial court dismissed the action without prejudice, holding that either the debtor or his estate must be named as a necessary party to the foreclosure action. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the dismissal, holding that because a foreclosure does not include a claim for a deficiency judgment and is therefore solely in rem in nature any mortgagor or successor in interest is a necessary party but a deceased debtor is not. View "KeyBank National Ass'n v. Keniston" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the superior court granting a partial summary judgment in favor of Defendants on count two of Plaintiff's second amended complaint seeking a declaratory judgment interpreting and/or reforming part of the Shea Family Living Trust, holding that the judgment was proper except as to reformation.At issue was a trust established by Patricia and William Shea that included stock issued by a particular bank. When William died, the bank redeemed its stock, and after Patricia died, the successor trustee distributed the remaining assets of the trust, which no longer included the bank stock. Plaintiffs, Patricia's nieces and nephews, brought this action, arguing that Plaintiffs were entitled to the proceeds from the sale of the bank stock. In count two, Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the trust provided for a general devise of the bank stock and, alternatively, brought a claim for reformation. The court entered partial summary judgment for Defendant on count two of the complaint and denied and dismissed the reformation claim. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment as to the reformation claim and otherwise affirmed, holding that Defendant was entitled to summary judgment on the reformation claim. View "Connary v. Shea" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the business and consumer docket's entry of final judgment reaffirming a partial summary judgment on the complaint filed by Michael Zelman and a counterclaim filed by Andrew and Zelman Family Business Holdings, LLC (ZFBH), holding that the business and consumer court had subject matter jurisdiction.Michael brought this action both individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Estelle Betty Zelman asking the superior court to dissolve and liquidate ZFBH. Andrew and ZFBH filed an answer and counterclaim. The court entered a final judgment concluding that Andrew was not a manager of ZFBH and that the sole remaining manager of ZFBH had died and declining to dissolve ZFBH. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the business and consumer court had subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction; and (2) the court correctly concluded that William did not have the authority to appoint Andrew as a manager of ZFBH. View "Zelman v. Zelman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the probate court granting in part Petitioner's petition for discovery of property pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 18-C, 3-110 but limiting the scope of the examination of Lorraine Kerwin, holding that Petitioner's notice of appeal was timely and that the limitation of the discovery was not an abuse of discretion.Petitioner's father, the decedent, married Kerwin in 2005. After the decedent died in 2018, Kerwin filed an application for informal probate of a will and appointment of a personal representative. Petitioner field a claim against the estate concerning certain real estate that was held in a trust and for which Kerwin was a trustee. Kerwin disallowed the claim. Petitioner then filed a petition for discovery of property asserting that the transfer of real estate to the trust was the result of undue influence or fraud. The probate court granted Petitioner's request to examine the creation of the decedent's trust but limited Petitioner's examination of Kerwin. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Petitioner's notice of appeal was timely filed; and (2) the court did not abuse its discretion in limiting discovery. View "In re Estate of Robert W. Kerwin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed as untimely Janet Sheltra's appeal from a summary judgment determining that her petition for formal probate was time barred and, subject to modification, affirmed a subsequent order of complete settlement.This case involved the will of Claudette Sheltra, who was survived by her son, Paul Sheltra, and her daughter, Janet. The probate court ultimately entered a judgment ordering Paul to transfer certain property to Janet and awarded attorney fees to Paul to be paid for only out of Janet's share of the Estate. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed as modified, holding (1) when a final judgment is entered in a subsidiary docket, the time to appeal that judgment pursuant to Me. R. App. P. 2B(c) begins to run even if there are other pending proceedings involving the same estate or the estate has yet to be fully administered; (2) the court's summary judgment was ripe for appeal when it was entered, and Janet's notice of appeal, filed more than one year later, was untimely as to that judgment; and (3) the order of complete settlement is modified to award attorney fees out of the Estate in general, to be borne pro rata by Janet and Paul as the only two beneficiaries. View "In re Estate of Claudette Sheltra" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the probate court denying Appellant's petition for formal adjudication of intestacy and appointment of personal representative of the estate of her former husband, David Washburn, on behalf of their minor son, holding that the probate court did not err.Specifically, the Court held (1) the probate court did not err in finding that David Washburn had sufficient testamentary capacity to execute a valid will; and (2) the probate court did not err by determining that there was no evidence that could sustain a finding of undue influence by a clear and convincing evidence standard. View "In re Estate of Washburn" on Justia Law