Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Nebraska Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the county court denying Nebraska Synod (Synod) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's complaint in intervention after a county court determined that the Synod was not Pella Evangelical Lutheran Church's charitable successor and assign, holding that the Synod did not prove it was a charitable successor of Pella.Before her death, Margaret L. Matthews established and amended a revocable trust wherein she made three bequests - one each to the Salvation Army and the Visting Nurse Association (VNA) and one to Pella. Each bequest encompassed the named beneficiary, as well as its charitable successors and assigns. Wells Fargo Bank, N.C., as trustee, filed a petition for declaratory judgment concerning Pella's existence. The county court ordered that Pella's share of the trust property be distributed pro rata to the Salvation Army and the VNA after concluding that Pella had ceased to exist and that Synod was not an appropriate successor to Pella. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Synod's assigned errors were without merit. View "In re Margaret L. Matthews Revocable Trust" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed in part, vacated in part, and reversed in part the judgment of the district court in favor of Plaintiffs in this lawsuit alleging negligence, unjust enrichment, and seeking a constructive trust, holding that the district court erred.In this lawsuit over the failure to change the beneficiary on the decedent's life insurance, Plaintiffs Michael Zook and Teresa Chramosta, as copersonal representatives of the estate of Robert Zook and in their individual capacities, and Robin Kuhlman, in her individual capacity, sued Jerry Zook, alleging unjust enrichment and seeking a constructive trust, and John Marshall, alleging negligence. The district court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs, found Defendants jointly and severally liable for $200,000, and imposed a constructive trust on the insurance proceeds in Jerry's possession. Marshall and Jerry appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed Marshall's appeal as a result of his death, reversed the district court's finding that Jerry was unjustly enriched and in imposing a constructive trust, and vacated the order imposing the constructive trust, holding that the district court erred on this issue. View "Zook v. Zook" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the county court finding that Appellants had committed breach of trust and had taken trust assets and ordering damages against Appellants by default judgment, holding that the findings of the county court were in conflict with the relief granted and did not conform to the law.After a trial, the court entered judgment against Appellants jointly and severally. Appellants filed a motion seeking a new trial for lack of personal jurisdiction, insufficiency of process, and insufficiency of service of process, which the trial court denied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the county court's judgment was contrary to its own findings and that remand for further proceedings was required. View "In re Masek Family Trust" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the findings entered by the district court upon the court's determination that this case had been improperly reinstated after the district court voluntarily dismissed their case without prejudice, holding that the district court erred in dismissing this case.Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Defendants, asserting two counts of undue influence and one count of fraud in the inducement regarding the devise of certain real estate by the parties' mother. Plaintiffs later filed a voluntary dismissal of the action without prejudice. The trial court effectively treated the dismissal as a motion dismissing without prejudice then granted the motion. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a motion to vacate/reinstate, which the court sustained. The district court then dismissed the case based upon Plaintiffs' previously filed voluntary dismissal without prejudice. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, at the time Plaintiffs filed their voluntary dismissal, a final submission had occurred, divesting Plaintiffs of their statutory ability to voluntarily dismiss their case under Neb. Rev. Stat. 25-601. View "Schaaf v. Schaaf" on Justia Law

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Collins filed an application for informal probate of the decedent's will. The submitted will disinherited the decedent’s children, devised most of the estate to Collins, and appointed Collins as personal representative. The will was dated January 27, 2021; the decedent died on January 31. The county court granted Collins’ application, The children objected, alleging that the decedent lacked testamentary capacity and the decedent was under undue influence when he executed the 2021 will. They offered for formal probate a will, executed in 2002, under which they were to inherit the residue of the decedent’s estate. They sought an order restraining Collins from acting as personal representative.Before the court ruled on the requests, the children filed a notice of transfer to the district court. The county court found that the children’s petition commenced a formal testacy proceeding and that their notice of transfer effectuated a transfer of jurisdiction so that it lacked jurisdiction to rule on the requests for a special administrator and a restraining order. The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed. The fact that a district court has obtained, via the transfer of the will contest, “jurisdiction over the proceeding on the contest” does not divest the county court of its original jurisdiction in probate to protect the estate during the pendency of that will contest by considering the merits of a petition for a special administrator and request for a restraining order on the personal representative. View "In re Estate of Anderson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the county court approving the schedule of distribution for the estate of Blain Larson, holding that the court erred in charging inheritance tax to the estate.Cindy Svoboda, the personal representative of Blain's estate, filed a formal petition for complete settlement after an informal testate proceeding and schedule of distribution. The court dismissed Matthew's objection to Cindy's proposal for distribution and approved the distribution. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the court erred in charging inheritance tax to the estate; and (2) this appeal was otherwise without merit. View "In re Estate of Larson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the probate court appointing the decedent's mother as personal representative, ordering that letters of personal representative be issued to her, and issuing such letters even though the mother had not yet accepted the appointment, holding that the court's issuance of letters was an unauthorized action.More than three years following the decedent's death, the estate was opened for the purpose of serving a lawsuit against the decedent. The court appointed the mother as personal representative for the purpose of receiving service of the civil action and, that same day, issued letters of personal representative to the mother even though the mother had not accepted the appointment. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the issuance of letters of personal representative was an unauthorized action without the appointee's qualification. View "In re Estate of Severson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court that instructed a receiver to continue its management of agricultural land, in which Appellants, the testator's children, each held fractional life estates along with the testator's surviving spouse, holding that it was too late to attack the receiver's appointment.In 2019, the court appointed a receiver. In 2021, the court provided further instructions to the receiver. Appellants appealed, arguing that the district court appointed a receiver for 2021 without either party requesting the appointment and without deciding that a receiver was needed or necessary. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the receiver was appointed in 2019, not 2021, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in its instructions to the receiver. View "Seid v. Seid" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of Thomas Pribil and William Kilzer (together, Appellees), the copersonal representatives of the estate of Charles E. Lakin and the cotrustees of the Charles E. Lakin Revocable Trust, holding that a dispute of material fact existed precluding summary judgment.Appellant in this case was the Charles E. Lakin Foundation, Inc. Appellant argued that Appellees improperly paid Pribil approximately $7 million after Lakin's death. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Pribil and Kilzer in their individual and representative capacities. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a dispute of material fact existed regarding the foundation's fudicairy duty claims against Appellees as copersonal representatives and cotrustees. View "In re Estate of Lakin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed for lack of a final, appealable order the probate court's denial of Appellant's "Verified Petition for Instruction" referencing Neb. Rev. Stat. 30-402, holding that the petition was not final and appealable.Appellant was a child of Rosa and Armengol Beltran, both deceased. After Armengol's death, a probate estate was opened. In an attempt to investigate his allegations that his sister and her husband failed to pay back loans owed to Rosa and Armengol Appellant served his brother-in-law with a deposition duces tecum requesting that he produce certain tax returns. When the request went unanswered Appellant filed his "Verified Petition for Instruction" asking that his sister appear and account for her actions in Rosa's estate. The probate court denied the petition for instruction. The Supreme Court dismissed Appellant's appeal, holding that the probate court's order denying Appellant's petition did not affect Appellant's substantial rights and was therefore not final. View "In re Estate of Beltran" on Justia Law