Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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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

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A.M.M.’s two children - Timothy McCann and Genet McCann (together, Appellants) - appealed from three groups of orders entered by the district court during actions it took to oversee the guardianship and conservatorship of A.M.M., including a preliminary injunction, Rule 11 sanctions, and a request for recusal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion by granting the Guardian’s motion for a preliminary injunction to enjoin Appellants from engaging in certain activities the Guardian believed were detrimental to A.M.M.’s health; (2) the district court did not err by denying Genet’s motion to recuse; and (3) the district court did not err by sanctioning Genet for violating Rule 11. View "In re Guardianship & Conservatorship of A.M.M." on Justia Law

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In 2000, Paul Kurth, who never married or had children, died at the age of eighty-two. In 2013, Sinda and Marty Puryer, Kurth’s niece and her husband, petitioned to probate a document entitled “Instructions and Last Will and Testament of Paul L. Kurth.” Marty claimed Kurth dictated the contents of this document to him and then signed it in the presence of two witnesses. Kurth’s nephew challenged the will. The district court eventually ruled that Mont. Code Ann. 72-3-122(1) barred probate of Kurth’s alleged will and, therefore, that Kurth had died intestate. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly concluded that Kurth died intestate and that his estate must be distributed in accordance with Montana’s intestacy statutes. View "In re Estate of Kurth" on Justia Law

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Roy Volk and Pamela Dee Volk had a son, RBV, in the fall of 2000. In 2011, the marriage was dissolved. At the time of the divorce, Roy owned two term life insurance policies. While a statutorily-mandated temporary restraining order was still in effect, Roy changed the beneficiary designations on both policies and designated his sister, Valerie Goeser, as the new beneficiary. Just over four months after the divorce was final, Roy died. Valerie received the life insurance proceeds from both policies. Pamela subsequently filed this action on behalf of RBV against Valerie and Roy’s estate seeking a constructive trust over the insurance policy payouts for the benefit of RBV. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Valerie, concluding that Valerie was not unjustly enriched when she received Roy’s life insurance proceeds. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Valerie was unjustly enriched because Roy’s errors in changing the beneficiary of his life insurance under the statutorily-mandated restraining order invalidated his designations on the insurance policies, and a constructive trust was created on RBV's behalf as a result of these errors. Remanded. View "Volk v. Goeser" on Justia Law

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Decedent was the sister of Linda Hyde and the mother of Kelli Martin. Martin petitioned the district court to adjudicate that her mother died intestate and to appoint her as Decedent's personal representative. Hyde opposed the petition, asserting that Decedent had previously executed a will naming Hyde as executrix. The district court concluded that Decedent had revoked the will, and therefore ruled that Harless died intestate and that Martin was entitled to be appointed as personal representative. The Supreme Court reversed, concluding that Decedent's will was a valid will that Decedent did not revoke. Remanded with instructions that Decedent's will be probated. View "In re Estate of Harless" on Justia Law

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Dorothy Gopher, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe, died intestate in 2008. Dorothy was survived by seven children (the siblings), and her estate consisted only of a ceremonial tribal flag. One of the siblings, filed an application for informal probate in the district court. As proceedings commenced in district court, several siblings filed a petition before the Blackfeet tribal court to name two other siblings as personal representatives in their parents' estates. The two siblings then filed consecutive motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction in district court. The district court continued its proceedings and denied the motions to dismiss. The district court concluded that it had jurisdiction over the parties and subject matter jurisdiction and ordered the estate to transfer the flag to co-trustees of a constructive trust on the estate. Meanwhile, the Blackfeet tribal court declined to assert jurisdiction over the estate property. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err when it assumed jurisdiction over the probate of the estate. View "In re Estate of Gopher" on Justia Law

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After John Irvine died, the proceeds from three of his investment accounts were paid to his estate. John's mother, Va Va, sought a declaratory judgment that she was the sole beneficiary of all three accounts. John's stepson, Michael, opposed the action. Both Va Va and Michael filed summary judgment motions. Va Va argued that John intended to benefit his estate under the laws of intestacy, not under the terms of his 1983 will, which included Michael as a beneficiary, and that John intended for her to be the contingent beneficiary for all three accounts. To support her contention, Va Va offered testimony from John's financial planner, who testified that he erroneously believed that John did not have a will when he executed beneficiary designation forms for a number of accounts. Va Va argued that the written contracts should be reformed for mutual mistake. The district court concluded that Michael was entitled to summary judgment under the contract terms and that no legal basis existed to require reformation of the contracts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly determined that (1) the contracts could not be reformed; and (2) proceeds from John's investment accounts were properly paid to his estate. View "Estate of Irvine v. Oaas" on Justia Law

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Decedent, the mother of Cathie and Marcy, died testate. Decedent's will expressly made no provision for her daughters. Decedent named Kristine Fankell as the personal representative of her estate. After Fankell's application for informal probate was accepted, Marcy filed a petition for supervised administration of the estate and a petition for formal probate of the will. Cathie subsequently filed an objection to the application and appointment of Fankell as personal representative as well as a motion for substitute of judge. The district court (1) denied Cathie's motion for substitution of judge as untimely, and (2) granted Fankell's motion to strike Cathie's pleadings because she failed timely to intervene and her interests were adequately represented by Marcy. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's denial of Cathie's motion for substitution of judge, holding that the court correctly determined Cathie's motion was untimely. View "In re Estate of Quirin" on Justia Law