Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting a motion to approve a settlement agreement reached in mediation involving siblings Lily Smith and Sam, Dan, and Vernon Lindemulder, holding that Petitioners were not entitled to relief on their claims of error.The agreement at issue resolved claims involving the Alice M. Lindemulder Trust, established by the parties' mother, which held more than 2,000 acres of land in Stillwater County. Sam appealed the district court's decision to approve the settlement agreement, arguing that the agreement was unenforceable because he lacked the capacity to enter it and had been subjected to undue influence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in concluding that Sam validly consented to the agreement; and (2) did not err in holding that the agreement was valid and enforceable. View "Smith v. Lindemulder" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order issued by the district court concerning the conservatorship and estate planning efforts of Appellant's elderly mother, H.D.K., holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion when it declined to issue a scheduling order; (2) did not abuse its discretion in declining to quash a subpoena for the file of H.D.K.'s attorney; (3) did not abuse its discretion when it concluded the conservatorship hearing after three days; (4) did not err when it issued findings regarding how H.D.K. intended to allocate her estate; (5) did not err by determining the present values of the properties in H.D.K.'s estate; and (6) did not err when it found H.D.K. had testamentary capacity. View "In re H.D.K." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed an order of the district court affirming an administrative law judge's proposed order that trust principal consisting of a jointly owned home constituted a countable asset for the purpose of the Medicaid eligibility of Marilyn Scheidecker, holding that there were no circumstances under which payment from the trust's corpus could be made for Marilyn's benefit.The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services denied Marilyn's application for Medicaid, concluding that Marilyn's one-half interest in the trust's principal was a countable resource placing her over Medicaid's resource limit. The ALJ upheld the denial. The district court affirmed the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that the trust was a countable asset pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1396p(d)(3), holding that circumstances existed by which payments form the trust's corpus could be made to or for Marilyn's benefit. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court was incorrect in its application of the federal statute. View "Estate of Scheidecker v. Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court that Dan Cook's last will and testament be confirmed and admitted to probate and that Kim Smith be appointed personal representative of the estate, holding that, although the district court erred in applying an incorrect burden of proof to determine the validity of the will, the error was harmless.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err in concluding that Smith did not exceed her general power of attorney granted her by Cook when she transferred Cook's money; (2) the district court did not err in finding that Cook had the requisite capacity to enter into a valid marriage with Smith shortly before his death; and (3) while the court erred in applying an incorrect burden of proof in determining the validity of Cook's will, the error was harmless because the court's findings of fact were sufficient under the correct burden of proof to support the conclusion that Cook was competent to create and amend a valid will. View "In re Estate of Cook" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Appellants' request to recover assets for the Estate of Edward M. Boland and imposing sanctions on the basis that the allegations of bias made against the court against it by Appellants were frivolous, holding that the district court did not err.This appeal arose from two cases involving the same underlying probate of the Estate. In this consolidated appeal, Appellants - Paul Boland and Mary Gettel, as heirs of the Estate - challenged the court's response to their bias allegations, the order imposing sanctions, and the sanctions imposed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellants were not entitled to a hearing on their petition for order to recover assets; (2) the district court correctly concluded that the allegations of bias made against it were frivolous; (3) the district court did not err by imposing Rule 11 sanctions against Paul and his attorney; and (4) this was a proper case in which to impose sanctions for a frivolous appeal. View "In re Estate of Boland" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court distributing assets from the Estate of Della L. Ankrum and the Harold Ankrum Trust to Della and Harold's three children, holding that the district court correctly interpreted Della's handwritten codicil as a wish and not a specific devise of her stock in Ankrum Trucking to Stewart Ankrum.Before Harold's death in 1993, Harold and Della executed identical wills under which the assets of the first spouse to die would go into a trust with the assets distributed equally between their three children upon the death of the surviving spouse. During the couple's lifetimes they created and grew Ankrum Trucking. At issue in this appeal was whether a handwritten codicil to Della's will found after her death made a specific devise of Ankrum Trucking shares to Stewart, one of the couple's children. The district court concluded that the language of the codicil was a wish on the part of Della and not a testamentary transfer. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly interpreted Della's codicil as lacking in testamentary intent to specifically devise her shares of Ankrum Trucking to Stewart. View "In re Harold Ankrum Trust Administration & Estate of Della L. Ankrum" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Appellant's motion to transfer venue to Flathead County, holding that the venue provisions of the Montana Uniform Trust Code (MUTC), Mont. Code Ann. 72-38-205(1), controlled in this case and that the district court did not err when it denied Appellant's motion to transfer venue.Appellant was appointed as the successor trustee to the David William Betts Trust. The trustor's children, who were remainder beneficiaries, decided to remove Appellant and appoint a successor trustee and filed a petition in Missoula County requesting that the court enforce the appointment of a nonprofit entity located in Missoula. Appellant agreed to step down as trustee. Thereafter, the Trust filed a separate action in Missoula County alleging, among other things, that Appellant breached his fiduciary duty and his duty as trustee. Appellant filed a motion for change of venue to Flathead County, but the district court denied the motion. Appellant appealed, arguing that the district court erred by applying the venue provisions of the MUTC because the applicable venue provision was Mont. Code Ann. 25-2-122. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, as the more specific statute in this instance, the MUTC venue provision controlled. View "Betts v. Gunlikson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying a complaint and petition for release of confidential criminal justice information (CCJI), holding that the court did not err in denying the petition for release of CCJI without conducting an in camera review.Appellant, in her capacity as the personal representative of the Estate of John Michael Crites, sought release of an investigative file regarding Crites's murder. The district court denied the petition without conducting an in camera review, determining that Mont. Code Ann. 44-5-303 does not allow for the release of CCJI if the prosecutor determines dissemination would jeopardize an active investigation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant's interest in the CCJI contained in Crites's investigative file must yield to the State's police power to conduct investigations, which included the protection of CCJI in the active investigation into Crites's murder. View "Crites v. Lewis & Clark Co." on Justia Law

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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