Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court

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Plaintiff Monica Anderson appealed a superior court decision dismissing her personal injury action against the defendant, the Estate of Mary D. Wood, as time-barred. Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident with a vehicle driven by Mary Wood. The complaint was mistakenly served on Wood’s daughter, who was also named Mary D. Wood. The daughter moved to dismiss on the grounds that Wood had passed away on January 22, 2015, and the plaintiff had no cause of action against the daughter, who was neither the administrator of Wood’s estate nor had any legal relationship with, or legal duty to, plaintiff. Plaintiff moved to amend her complaint to substitute the Estate of Mary D. Wood for Mary D. Wood as the defendant. Plaintiff’s motion alleged that she had filed a petition for estate administration for the Estate of Mary D. Wood and that she would serve notice of the action on the estate once the circuit court ruled on that petition. The trial court dismissed the action, ruling, sua sponte, that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction. The court noted plaintiff’s concession that she had filed the action against the wrong defendant, but concluded that it could not grant her motion to amend because there was “nothing in the record to suggest . . . that an Estate of Mary D. Wood presently exists.” The parties did not dispute that Wood died intestate and no estate had been opened immediately following her death. The court acknowledged the plaintiff’s allegation that she had sought to open an estate, but noted that plaintiff had not provided “any documentation demonstrating that the [circuit court] ever issued a grant of administration of said estate.” Accordingly, the court dismissed the action, ruling that “there is presently no legal entity that can be properly substituted for the current defendant such that this Court would possess subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to RSA 556:7.” In August 2016, a certificate of appointment was issued, naming an administrator of the Estate of Mary D. Wood. Plaintiff filed her complaint in the case underlying this appeal on April 4, 2017. Defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that the statute of limitations had run on the claim. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined plaintiff’s claim was not time-barred by RSA 508:4 at the time of Wood’s death and her injury suit was brought within three years of Wood’s death. Therefore, the action was timely. View "Anderson v. Estate of Mary D. Wood" on Justia Law

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The Circuit Court transferred to the New Hampshire Supreme Court without ruling on a question of whether RSA 564-B:1-112 (Supp. 2017) (amended 2018), which addressed rules of construction for trusts, incorporated the pretermitted heir statute, RSA 551:10 (2007), as a rule of construction applicable to trusts. The Supreme Court accepted the transfer, and answered the question in the negative. View "In re Teresa E. Craig Living Trust" on Justia Law

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Defendants Alan Johnson, Joseph McDonald, and William Saturley, appealed a probate court order which set aside “decantings” from two 2004 irrevocable trusts of which plaintiffs, David A. Hodges, Jr. (David Jr.), Barry R. Sanborn, and Patricia Sanborn Hodges, had been beneficiaries, and which removed defendants Johnson and Saturley as cotrustees of those trusts. The decantings at issue eliminated the future beneficial interests of plaintiffs. The trial court ruled that the decantings were void ab initio because McDonald, as the decanting trustee, and Johnson and Saturley, to the extent they assisted as co-trustees in facilitating the decantings, failed to “give any consideration to the [plaintiffs’] beneficial interests.” The trial court also determined that it “best serves the interests of all beneficiaries to order removal of . . . Saturley and Johnson as co-trustees.” Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hodges & Johnson" on Justia Law

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Claimant Edmund Hibbard, Esq., Administrator of the Estate of Beatrice Jakobiec (Estate), appealed a New Hampshire Bar Association Public Protection Fund Committee (PPFC) decision finding that the Estate was entitled to reimbursement from the Public Protection Fund (PPF) in an amount significantly less than that which the Estate claimed was stolen by former attorney Thomas Tessier. Beatrice Jakobiec passed away in 2001, leaving two sons, Frederick Jakobiec, M.D. and Thaddeus Jakobiec, Jr., as heirs. In 2002, Tessier was appointed to administer the Estate. The value of the Estate for probate purposes, as determined by an ADO auditor was $576,074.03. The auditor concluded that “[t]he assets included in the Estate by Attorney Tessier were valid and belonged in the Estate valuation,” but that Tessier failed to include additional assets owned by Beatrice at the time of her death. The auditor concluded that it appeared Tessier took the proceeds from certain certificates of deposit and other checks “for his own purposes.” In addition, the auditor detailed Tessier’s misappropriation, using fraudulent powers of attorney, of funds belonging to Frederick individually or held in trust for Thaddeus, who has been blind since birth. In 2009, the Estate filed a claim alleging a loss consisting of $208,798.95 in stolen assets (the Stolen Assets), $96,500.00 in stolen legal fees, and $99,531.81 in lost income, but the PPFC only reimbursed the Estate half of the total amount. The Estate argued the PPFC erred by: (1) reducing the amount of its claim based upon an “earlier finding that Thaddeus Jakobiec . . . had received his full distribution from the Estate”; (2) reducing the Estate’s claim for stolen legal fees by the amounts of certain excluded checks; (3) finding that the Estate’s claim against the PPF included a claim for lost income; and (4) “applying credits for prior recoveries by the Estate for the gross amount of those recoveries rather than the net amount of the recoveries.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court found "nothing prohibiting a claimant from being made whole, if other sources allow it, and we can think of no persuasive policy reason for preventing a claimant from utilizing other sources to obtain a full recovery." Though the Court found no abuse of discretion with respect to the exclusion of expenses of recovery, the Court reversed as to the other amounts lost. View "Appeal of Estate of Beatrice Jakobiec" on Justia Law

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Respondent Arthur Sweatt appealed a circuit court order denying, in relevant part, his motions to reconsider certain orders in his divorce from Patricia Sweatt. He argued the court erred: (1) in denying his motion to abate the divorce; (2) in granting the motion of petitioner Kathleen Paine, administrator of the estate of Patricia Sweatt, to amend by substitution; (3) in distributing the marital property more than six months after the dissolution of the marriage; (4) in finding him, but not Paine, to have been non-compliant with court rules; (5) by denying him due process and equal protection of the law; and (6) in its valuation of the marital real property. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. View "In the Matter of Patricia Sweatt & Arthur Sweatt" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Wayne and Ruth Ross, trustees of the Wayne Ross Revocable Trust and the Ruth Ross Revocable Trust, respectively, appealed a superior court order in favor of defendants Donald Ross and Rossview Farm, LLC (the LLC). Plaintiffs contested findings that the parties entered into a lease for the plaintiffs’ lifetimes and that they had no right to evict the defendants pursuant to RSA 540:2, II(d) or (e) (2007). The trial court found that plaintiffs conceded that a June 23, 2006 document satisfied the statute of frauds because, in their post-trial memorandum, plaintiffs explained their position that the June 23, 2006 document “is a writing signed by all the parties that states the terms of the parties’ agreement. This document satisfies the statute of frauds and governs their relationship.” The “clear” language of the June 23, 2006 document, plaintiffs posited, created a yearly lease. However, plaintiffs also argued in the post-trial memorandum that defendants’ introduction of parol evidence of the parties’ intent to create a perpetual lease violated the statute of frauds because “the intent of the parties to create a perpetual lease must be clear from the face of the document and there must be a document to satisfy the statute of frauds.” Thus, plaintiffs did not concede that the June 23, 2006 document satisfied the statute of frauds for all purposes; instead, they contended that it “satisfies the statute of frauds” if the document was read to create a yearly lease. The New Hampshire Supreme Court vacated and remanded, finding the trial court’s finding that plaintiffs conceded the issue lacked evidentiary support, and concluded plaintiffs did not waive their statute of frauds argument by concession. View "Ross v. Ross" on Justia Law

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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