Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of D.A. Davidson Trust Company and denying Valentine Weisz’s motion for partial summary judgment but reversed the order ordering sanctions against Valentine’s legal counsel, Henning, Keedy & Lee, holding that the district court abused its discretion when it ordered the sanctions. Valentine, who created the Valentine E. Weisz Living Trust and named Davidson as successor trustee, accused Davidson of inappropriately seizing control of the Trust. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err when it determined that Davidson properly assumed the role of successor trustee; (2) the district court did not err when it denied Valentine’s motion for partial summary judgment; but (3) the district court abused its discretion in sanctioning Valentine’s legal counsel. View "Weisz v. D.A. Davidson Trust Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s entry of judgment as a matter of law in favor of Defendants, corporate entities and individuals, at the close of Plaintiff’s case-in-chief in the bench trial held on her claims, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. On the scheduled day for trial, the district court noted that Plaintiff’s claims were “not entirely clear” but understood them to constitute a derivative action seeking forced dissolution of the corporations. Plaintiff’s evidence in support of her case focused primarily on allegations of corporate records mismanagement. At the close of Plaintiff’s case-in-chief, the district court granted judgment as a matter of law for Defendants. The court then granted an individual defendant attorney fees pursuant to the equity exception to the American Rule. The Supreme Court affirmed and granted Defendants’ request to declare Plaintiff a vexatious litigant, holding (1) the district court did not err in granting judgment in favor of Defendants; (2) the district court did not err in granting attorney fees; (3) Plaintiff was not denied a fair trial; and (4) the district court did not abuse its discretion in the administration of the trial. View "McCann v. McCann" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim, holding that the allegations in the complaint failed to state a claim of unjust enrichment upon which relief could be granted. Michael Grauman, the decedent, executed transfer on death (TOD) beneficiary designations for three Ameriprise Financial accounts. After the decedent died and the funds were distributed pursuant to the TOD designations, Steve Darty, the successor trustee of the Michael R. Grauman Living Trust, filed a complaint challenging the validity of the TOD designations. Darty claimed that transfers unjustly enriched the TOD beneficiaries because the decedent intended to transfer the Ameriprise accounts into the Trust. The district court concluded that the decedent’s TOD designations superseded the contrary provisions in the Trust because the Ameriprise accounts were nonprobate assets. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly concluded that the decedent’s TOD designations controlled the distribution of the proceeds from the Ameriprise accounts on the decedent’s death. View "Darty v. Cornish" on Justia Law

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The district court did not err when it declined to apply Montana’s anti-lapse statute, Mont. Code Ann. 72-2-717(2), to the Armond W. Tonn Testamentary Trust. Armond W. Tonn’s last will and testament created a trust for the benefit of his three children - William Tonn, Marc Tonn, and Elizabeth Sylvis. When William passed away, the trustee began to distribute one-third of the Trust income to the William Heirs and two-thirds to Elizabeth after Marc passed away. Concerned about the unequal Trust income distributions, the William Heirs filed a petition claiming that in addition to the one-third William Tonn share, they were entitled to one-half of the principal and income attributable to Marc’s share of the Trust. The district court granted summary judgment to the Elizabeth Heirs and awarded them Marc’s share of the trust. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, where Armond specifically listed the order in which he wanted distributions to take place and where the William Heirs were not included in the distribution of Marc’s one-third share of the Trust, Armond’s intent regarding distribution was clear and the anti-lapse statute did not apply. View "Tonn v. Estate of Elizabeth Sylvis" on Justia Law

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The district court did not err when it declined to apply Montana’s anti-lapse statute, Mont. Code Ann. 72-2-717(2), to the Armond W. Tonn Testamentary Trust. Armond W. Tonn’s last will and testament created a trust for the benefit of his three children - William Tonn, Marc Tonn, and Elizabeth Sylvis. When William passed away, the trustee began to distribute one-third of the Trust income to the William Heirs and two-thirds to Elizabeth after Marc passed away. Concerned about the unequal Trust income distributions, the William Heirs filed a petition claiming that in addition to the one-third William Tonn share, they were entitled to one-half of the principal and income attributable to Marc’s share of the Trust. The district court granted summary judgment to the Elizabeth Heirs and awarded them Marc’s share of the trust. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, where Armond specifically listed the order in which he wanted distributions to take place and where the William Heirs were not included in the distribution of Marc’s one-third share of the Trust, Armond’s intent regarding distribution was clear and the anti-lapse statute did not apply. View "Tonn v. Estate of Elizabeth Sylvis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding that Florence Larson, mother of Dwight and Doug Larson, properly and without undue influence, gifted her shares in the family farm corporation to Doug. Specifically, the court held (1) the district court did not err in finding no undue influence by Doug over Florence; (2) Dwight could not raise the argument that the gift of stock certificates was a contract for which Doug offered no consideration for the first time on appeal; and (3) the district court did not err in finding that Florence made a valid gift of company stock certificates to Doug. View "Larson v. Larson" on Justia Law

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The district court did not err in denying a motion for relief from a formal testacy order under Mont. R. Civ. P. 60(b) filed by Appellant, the decedent’s wife. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err in determining that Rule 60(b) did not apply in this case and that, rather, Appellant’s motion for relief from the formal testacy order must be considered under Mont. Code Ann. 72-3-317; (2) the district court did not err in denying Appellant’s motion to modify a formal testacy order under section 72-3-317(4); (3) the district court did not err in denying Appellant’s request for imposition of a constructive trust; and (4) the personal representative was entitled to attorney fees under Mont. Code Ann. 72-12-206. View "In re Estate of Erickson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that “devisees” are “interested persons” under Mont. Code Ann. 72-1-103(12) and (25) and Mont. Code Ann. 72-5-413 without possessing any other right or claim, and therefore, Petitioners had standing to bring their petition to remove Respondent as conservator for Gregory Engellant. Section 72-5-413 allows a “person interested in the welfare” of a conserved person to petition for an order removing the conservator. The district court concluded that Petitioners were not interested persons because they were only devisees under Gregory’s will and therefore had only an expectancy interest that was insufficient to grant them standing. The Supreme Court reversed in an opinion limited to the issue of standing, holding that the term “interested person” defined in section 72-1-103(25) includes Petitioners. View "In re Estate of Gregory Engellant" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Helen Edwards executed a will and created a trust leaving the majority of her estate to her niece, G.G. Verone. In 2014, Edwards executed a new will and amended her trust by leaving much of her estate to her handyman, Paul Degel, and to her housekeeper, Nancy Schulz. After Edwards died, Schulz petitioned for probate of the 2012 will. Verone cross-petitioned for probate of the 2010 will and for validation of the 2010 trust. A jury found in a special verdict that Degel or Schulz procured the 2012 will and 2012 trust by undue influence, fraud, or duress. The trial court, however, denied Verone’s requests to admit the 2010 will to probate, to validate the 2010 trust, and for attorney fees. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) substantial credible evidence existed to support the jury’s findings that the 2012 will and the 2012 trust were procured by undue influence, fraud, or duress; (2) the district court erred in refusing to admit the 2010 will to probate or to enforce the 2010 trust following the jury’s special verdict; and (3) the district court erred in refusing to award Verone attorney fees and certain costs. View "In re Estate of Edwards" on Justia Law

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After John McClure’s death, his widow (Ellie) and his children (collectively, Siblings) embarked on contentious litigation regarding the McClure Family Trust. Ellie filed suit seeking to enforce an amendment to the Trust. The district court denied relief, concluding that, under the Trust’s plain language, Ellie had no interest in any of the Trust’s assets. The court also denied Ellie’s motion for partial summary judgment asking the court to forfeit Siblings’ interests for purportedly contesting the Trust’s validity. The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding (1) Ellie had an interest in Trust assets, and therefore, the district court incorrectly concluded that the amendment was invalid; and (2) the district court correctly determined that Siblings did not forfeit their interest in the Trust. Remanded. View "In re Estate of McClure" on Justia Law