Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court

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The decedent, Kathleen Mullin, a resident of Hancock, New Hampshire, died intestate in 2014. Her heirs at law were her three siblings: Michael Mullin, J. Stanley Mullin, Jr., and appellant Patricia Jackle. All of the heirs at law were California residents, as was the appellee Laura Bushley, a trustee. From 2008 until her death, the decedent lived in Hancock and owned real property there. She also owned real property in California, where she had lived for many years prior to 2008. Although the decedent did not have a will, in 2012, while in California, she executed a trust document (Trust) that had been drafted by a California attorney. The Trust contained a choice of law provision, stating that the laws of California governed the validity, construction, and administration of the Trust, except that all matters relating to real property were governed by the laws of the situs of that real property. Appellant filed an Inventory of Fiduciary listing the decedent’s estate as consisting of approximately $2.5 million worth of real estate and personal property. In August, the appellee filed an objection to the Inventory, claiming that it listed property that was owned by the Trust. Appellee filed suit in California seeking to transfer title to the decedent’s property to the Trust. Appellant objected to the transfer, challenging the suit on multiple procedural and jurisdictional grounds. The circuit court denied appellant’s motion, ruling: (1) that the court was “unable to make a ruling on the requests of the [appellant] regarding the legal and equitable title to the property or to declare that the situs of the property . . . is New Hampshire without appropriate testimony and evidence”; (2) that jurisdiction over the Trust was “properly before” the California court, and that California law must apply except with respect to the New Hampshire real estate; and (3) that the California court was “a more convenient forum” to hear the matter because “[e]vidence and witnesses would more easily be available” there, the decedent “lived in California for many years and utilized services of a California attorney and California financial advisor,” the Trust “was drafted in California,” and the “trustee and all three heirs-at-law, including the [appellant], are residents of California.” This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error in the circuit court’s denial of appellant’s motion, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Estate of Kathleen Mullin" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Estate of Thea Braiterman filed a petition for writ of certiorari challenging a final decision of the Administrative Appeals Unit (AAU) of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), that upheld the determination that applicant Thea Braiterman was ineligible for Medicaid-Old Age Assistance (Medicaid-OAA) benefits because her assets exceeded the eligibility threshold. On appeal, petitioner argued that the AAU erroneously found that the Thea G. Braiterman Irrevocable Trust (the Trust) was includable as an asset for the purpose of determining applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid-OAA benefits. Petitioner argued, and DHHS did not dispute, that petitioner’s challenge was not moot even though applicant had died prior to the conclusion of this matter. Given the facts of this case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court could not say that there were no circumstances under which payments from the Trust could be made “for the benefit” of the applicant. “Finally, we take this opportunity to stress that we have no doubt that self-settled, irrevocable trusts may, if so structured, so insulate trust assets that those assets will be deemed unavailable to the settlor.” The Trust in this case was not such a vehicle. In the Supreme Court's view, the Trust, as structured, allowed applicant “a degree of discretionary authority that would . . . permit [her] to enjoy her assets, preserve those assets for her heirs, and receive public assistance, to, in effect, have her cake and eat it too." As such, the Court denied certiorari. View "Petition of Estate of Thea Braiterman" on Justia Law

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Judith Mortner, temporary administrator of the estate of respondent Theodore Mortner (Husband), appealed, and petitioner, Lynn Mortner (Wife), cross-appealed a circuit court order abating the Wife’s divorce action and vacating its prior final divorce decree. Husband and Wife were married in July 1987. In October 2013, Wife filed a petition for divorce when she was 70 years old and still working and Husband was approximately 90 years old and still working. In July 2014, Husband, Wife, and their counsel signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) purporting to settle the divorce action. The MOU was filed with the court in September with a cover letter reminding the court that the divorce decree was not to issue until counsel notified the court that it could issue. On October 29, Husband’s counsel hand-delivered to the court a letter advising that the decree could now issue. On October 30, the court signed an order that decreed the parties divorced on the ground of irreconcilable differences, approved the MOU, and incorporated it as part of the divorce decree. Unbeknownst to the court, Husband died on either one or two days prior to its order. Also unbeknownst to the court, the parties on October 29, through their counsel, entered into an amendment to their proposed final decree of divorce and their MOU. Wife subsequently filed a motion to reconsider the issuance of the divorce decree, requesting the court to vacate the decree on the ground that, before the court had signed its October 30 order, Husband had died. In its appeal, the Estate argued that the trial court erred by abating the divorce action. In her cross-appeal, Wife argued that the Estate lacked standing to contest the abatement and that its appeal should therefore be dismissed. She also argued that the trial court erred when it allowed Husband’s counsel to appear at the hearing on her motion to abate the divorce. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. View "In the Matter of Lynn Mortner and Theodore Mortner" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Daniel Eaton appealed a circuit court order granting summary judgment in favor of his mother Mary Louise Eaton and her guardian Michael Eaton. This appeal arose from petitioner's attempts to be paid legal fees he incurred in guardianship proceedings involving his mother and other siblings. He alleged that he was entitled to the fees because he acted as his mother's attorney-in-fact pursuant to a durable general power of attorney. The trial court ruled that an acknowledgement-requirement of RSA 506:6, VII(a) was mandatory and therefore petitioner could not have been acting as Mary Lou Eaton's attorney-in-fact when he undertook the acts for which the legal fees were claimed] as a matter of law. Finding no error in the circuit court's order, the Supreme Court affirmed its decision. View "Eaton v. Eaton" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Stephen Stompor petitioned the Supreme Court for review of a probate court decision that granted him and his brother Stan access to an attorney's file who drafted estate plan documents for their parents. In 2001 and 2002, the parents met with the attorney regarding their estate plans. The attorney drafted plan documents for them, however, due to a conflict, the attorney withdrew from representing them, and the estate plan documents were not executed. In 2004, petitioner wrote to the attorney to inquire whether the attorney would again represent the parents with regard to their estate plans. The attorney declined. Petitioner then helped his parents prepare certain estate plan documents, and the parents executed those documents in October 2004. In October 2007, the respondent filed a petition on the parents' behalf, to determine the legality of certain acts of petitioner and requesting, among other things, an accounting of the petitioner's handling of all of the parents' funds either personally or as a trustee of his father's living trust. In June 2009, respondent successfully moved to amend his petition to allege that, in 2004, the petitioner, as the parents' fiduciary, exercised undue influence over the parents when they lacked the capacity to understand the estate plan documents that gave the petitioner and his family exclusive inheritance rights to the parents' assets to the exclusion of the parents' other children. The parents passed away during the late summer of 2009. In February 2010, while his petition was still pending, the respondent sought disclosure from the Attorney of any information he had regarding his contact with the parents in connection with the challenged 2004 estate plan. Petitioner objected, arguing that the attorney-client privilege prohibited disclosure of any documents the attorney had relating to his consultations with his parents. The court ruled that the attorney's entire file was discoverable because it was relevant to a dispute among the decedents' children and to whether the petitioner unduly influenced the parents' decisions regarding their estate plan. The Supreme Court found no reversible error, and affirmed the probate court's ruling. View "Petition of Stephen Stompor" on Justia Law

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The Estate of Richard Wilber appealed appeals a probate court decision allowing the Estate of Josephine Wilber to claim a statutory share under RSA 560:10 (2007) of certain real property named in his will. Finding that the lower court erred in allowing the claim, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. View "In re Estate of Richard B. Wilber" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Julie Shelton, trustee of the Elizabeth M. Tamposi Trusts (the EMT trusts), appealed a "lengthy and detailed" order of the Hillsborough County Probate Court that dismissed the complaint filed by: (1) Shelton, in her capacity as trustee of the EMT Trusts; and Elizabeth M. Tamposi. Shelton argued that the trial court erred in: (1) construing the governing trust instrument; (2) ruling that, by filing the complaint, Elizabeth Tamposi violated the in terrorem clause; (3) ordering Shelton to pay the attorneys' fees "of both the Respondents and the voluntary Intervenors"; and (4) removing Shelton from her position as trustee. Upon review, the Supreme Court found no error in the lower court's decision, and affirmed with respect to all issues raised by Petitioner. View "Shelton v. Tamposi" on Justia Law

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Defendants Robert Christy, Christy & Tessier, P.A., Debra Johnson, and Kathy Tremblay, appealed a superior court decision that rescinded a professional liability policy issued by Plaintiff Great American Insurance Company (GAIC), to the law firm of Christy & Tessier, P.A. Robert Christy (Christy) and Thomas Tessier (Tessier) were partners in the firm, practicing together for over forty-five years. In 1987, Frederick Jakobiec, M.D. (Jakobiec) retained Tessier to draft a will for him. In 2001, Jakobiec's mother, Beatrice Jakobiec (Beatrice), died intestate. Her two heirs were Jakobiec and his brother, Thaddeus Jakobiec (Thaddeus). Jakobiec asked Tessier, who was Beatrice's nephew, to handle the probate administration for his mother's estate. From 2002 through 2005, Tessier created false affidavits and powers of attorney, which he used to gain unauthorized access to estate accounts and assets belonging to Jakobiec and Thaddeus. Litigation ensued; two months after Tessier and Jakobiec entered into the settlement agreement, Christy executed a renewal application for professional liability coverage on behalf of the law firm. Question 6(a) on the renewal application asked: "After inquiry, is any lawyer aware of any claim, incident, act, error or omission in the last year that could result in a professional liability claim against any attorney of the Firm or a predecessor firm?" Christy's answer on behalf of the firm was "No." The trial court found that Christy's negative answer to the question in the renewal application was false "since Tessier at least knew of Dr. Jakobiec's claim against him in 2006." On appeal, the defendants argued that rescission was improper because: (1) Christy's answer to question 6(a) on the renewal application was objectively true; (2) rescission of the policy or denial of coverage would be substantially unfair to Christy and the other innocent insureds who neither knew nor could have known of Tessier's fraud; and (3) the alleged misrepresentation was made on a renewal application as opposed to an initial policy application. GAIC argued that rescission as to all insureds is the sole appropriate remedy given the material misrepresentations in the law firm's renewal application. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the trial court erred as a matter of law in ruling that Tessier's knowledge is imputed to Christy and the other defendants thereby voiding the policy ab initio. The Court made no ruling, however, as to whether any of the defendants' conduct would result in non-coverage under the policy and remanded for further proceedings. View "Great American Insurance Company v. Christy" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Tracy Walbridge appealed a superior court order that denied her petition to establish her homestead right exempt from the mortgage held by Respondents the Estate of Raymond Beaudoin, Jr. and its co-administrators Steven Beaudoin and Raymond Beaudoin, III. Petitioner owned property in Rochester that she purchased with her then-husband. At that time, it was undeveloped land. Petitioner executed a mortgage on the property and released her homestead rights to that property. Allegedly unbeknownst to Petitioner, her husband executed a mortgage deed and promissory note on the property in favor of the decedent Raymond Beaudoin once a home was built there. The mortgage on the property did not list it as part of the homestead of the mortgagor. Petitioner and her husband divorced, and pursuant to the divorce decree, she was awarded all right, title and interest in the property. The property was foreclosed upon. Petitioner filed a petition to establish that her homestead right to the property was exempt from Respondents' mortgage. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the trial court erred as a matter of law when it found that her homestead right in the property was not established until she actually, physically occupied it. She contended that her "obvious intention of present and immediate occupancy of the home . . . followed by [her] actual occupancy within a reasonable time, was equivalent to actual occupancy." The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed the trial court. View "Walbridge v. The Estate of Raymond A. Beaudoin, Jr." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Edeltraud Elter-Nodvin appealed a superior court order that dismissed her claims against Respondents (her daughters) Leah and Madeline Nodvin. The claims sought to impose a constructive trust on insurance and retirement account proceeds that would otherwise pass to her daughters. Petitioner was married to Stephen Nodvin in 1986, and had Respondents. In 2009, Stephen filed for divorce, the couple separated, and Petitioner moved abroad. In October of that year, the family division issued an anti-hypothecation order instructing the parties to refrain from, among other things, disposing of marital property while proceedings were pending. Sometime thereafter, Stephen changed the beneficiaries of certain life insurance policies and retirement accounts from Petitioner to the couple’s daughters. After changing the beneficiaries, Stephen died. In 2011, Petitioner sued her daughters for the insurance and retirement account proceeds. She argued that the circumstances under which her husband changed his beneficiaries justified the imposition of a constructive trust. The daughters, one of whom was still a minor and represented by guardians, moved to dismiss the petition. They argued that Stephen’s change of beneficiaries did not violate the anti-hypothecation order, and, therefore, their status as the named beneficiaries entitled them to the proceeds of their father’s insurance policies and retirement accounts. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Stephen's action did not violate the plain language of the anti-hypothecation order. Further, the Court held that the superior court properly dismissed Petitioner's breach of contract and constructive trust claim because she failed to allege facts to establish a contract or a confidential relationship at the time Stephen changed beneficiaries: "while the divorce action was pending, Petitioner could not rely upon Stephen to provide for her based on a spousal obligation. Rather, if she wished to remain beneficiary of the insurance policies, she should have asked the court to order Stephen not to alter them." View "Elter-Nodvin v. Nodvin" on Justia Law