Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
Nelson, et al. v. Nelson
William Nelson appealed a district court judgment denying his claims relating to a quitclaim deed executed by his mother Elsie Haykel before her death. Elsie Haykel executed estate planning documents and a quitclaim deed conveying a remainder interest in a Bismarck condominium to her children, Steven Nelson, Gail Nelson-Hom, and William Nelson. Haykel died in 2014. In January 2016, Steven and Gail sued William seeking a partition and sale of the condominium. William counterclaimed, alleging the 2011 quitclaim deed was invalid because Haykel lacked mental capacity and was unduly influenced. The district court entered partial summary judgment in favor of Steven and Gail, but the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding William Nelson raised genuine issues of material fact on his claims of lack of capacity and undue influence. After a two-day trial in July and August 2019, the district court entered a judgment concluding the quitclaim deed was valid because Haykel did not lack mental capacity to execute the deed and was not unduly influenced. The judgment also awarded Steven and Gail attorney’s fees and costs, granted Steven authority to sell the condominium, and denied William's discovery claims and his motion to stay the proceedings to reopen Haykel’s probate. William raised twenty-one issues on appeal. The Supreme Court determined William did not seek a stay of the judgment before the condominium was sold. In addition, he did not claim his appeal involved great public interest. Therefore, the Court concluded the issues in the appeal relating to the sale of the condominium were moot, and dismissed that part of William Nelson’s appeal. Finding no other reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Nelson, et al. v. Nelson" on Justia Law
Estate of Sande
Fred Sande, the personal representative of the Estate of Geraldine Sande, appealed a judgment distributing the estate. Geraldine Sande and her son, Philip Sande, owned Sande Music Company, a partnership. Geraldine owned 55 percent of the partnership and Philip owned the remaining 45 percent. In March 2010, Geraldine and Philip sold the company for $800,000, of which $600,000 was paid shortly after the sale and the remaining amount was to be paid in installments. Philip executed a promissory note in the amount of $55,000 in favor of Geraldine. Philip died on August 17, 2014, and his wife, Paulette Sande, was appointed the personal representative of his estate. Fred filed an inventory and appraisement of Geraldine's estate, which included real property, Geraldine's share of Sande Music sale proceeds, the $55,000 promissory note from Philip, and other assets. Philip objected to the inventory and appraisement, demanded an accounting of Geraldine's Estate, and requested the immediate return of any Estate assets. Philip alleged the Estate’s real property was undervalued, Fred removed assets from the real property, Fred conveyed real property to himself, and deprived Philip of his interest in the property, and alleged Fred failed to pay rent for use of the Estate's property while conducting business there. Philip also claimed that the value of the promissory note did not reflect payments that had been made and that there were no assets from the sale of Sande Music at the time of Geraldine's death. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the evidence supported the district court’s findings, the court’s finding that Fred breached his fiduciary duty was not clearly erroneous, and the court did not abuse its discretion by denying Fred's request for personal representative’s fees and attorney’s fees. View "Estate of Sande" on Justia Law
Albrecht v. Albrecht, et al.
Alan Albrecht appeals from a district court judgment dismissing his complaint against Mark Albrecht with prejudice. The background for this case stemmed from prior litigation in the divorce proceedings of Glen and Sharleen Albrecht (Alan and Mark's parents), and continuing in the probate of Sharleen Albrecht’s estate. Alan named his brother Mark and Mark's wife as defendants in a complaint alleging contempt of court and unjust enrichment. He alleged that, while Glen and Sharleen's divorce was pending and restraining provisions were in effect, their late-mother Sharleen Albrecht changed the beneficiary designation on an investment account owned by her, removing Alan as one of the beneficiaries and naming only Mark as the transfer-on-death beneficiary. He further alleged that, in contravention of the divorce summons and interim order’s restraining provisions, Sharleen liquidated the investment account and the proceeds from the liquidated account were subsequently transferred to Mark after Sharleen's death. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded Alan lacked standing to bring the action, so it affirmed dismissal. View "Albrecht v. Albrecht, et al." on Justia Law
Joyce v. Joyce
This litigation involved a dispute over mineral interests located in Mountrail County, North Dakota, and other property owned by Vera Mitchell and her estate. Tarryl Joyce, as the estate's administrator, appealed a district court judgment granting Steven Joyce’s motion for dismissal of Tarryl's claims against him for actions he took while acting as Vera Mitchell’s attorney-in-fact. In 2006, Vera executed a durable power of attorney appointing her son, Steven Joyce, as attorney-in-fact. Vera executed a last will and testament the same day. In 2008, due to dementia and declining mental health, Steven moved his mother from an assisted living facility in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to a memory care facility in Carrolton, Texas, near his home. In 2011, Steven, as Vera's attorney-in-fact, executed and recorded a quit claim deed transferring all of Mitchell’s mineral interests to himself. Steven also wrote several checks to himself and others and made purchases using Mitchell’s Wells Fargo checking account as Mitchell’s attorney-in-fact. Tarryl alleged Steven made improper investments and purchased property using their mother's assets. When asked for an accounting of Vera's assets, Steven responded that the assets were depleted due to costs incurred for Vera's stay at the nursing facility. Tarryl sued to recover the assets. A settlement was reached, wherein Steven would pay back monies spent out of Vera's assets. The agreement was to be guaranteed by a second mortgagee on Steven's home. After being advised by Texas counsel that the second mortgage might be invalid under Texas law, Tarryl's counsel believed the settlement with Steven would not be binding. Because Steven believed the parties had reached a valid and enforceable settlement, he moved for dismissal when Tarryl sued pursuant to the agreement. The North Dakota Supreme Court concurred with the district court that Tarryl presented no evidence that the second mortgage was invalid under Texas law, so it was proper for the district court to dismiss her case. View "Joyce v. Joyce" on Justia Law
Matter of Hogen Trust B
Rodney Hogen appealed an order denying his motion and an order terminating a trust. He argued on appeal he should have received additional funds from the Trust. Specifically, Rodney argued the district court’s previous order, and the North Dakota Supreme Court’s opinion affirming the order, permitted only $208,000, and no additional funds, to be taken from his share. Rodney argued the prior order was binding and the order by the court denying his motion impermissibly changed the meaning of the prior order. Rodney also argues the court erred in terminating the Trust. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Matter of Hogen Trust B" on Justia Law
Estate of Albrecht
Glenvin Albrecht (“Glen”) appealed judgment entered in favor of the Estate of Sharleen Albrecht (“Estate”) regarding certain assets in which he had an ownership interest. In February 2010, Glen sued Sharleen for divorce after nearly 50 years of marriage. Sharleen died on July 29, 2013, before a final divorce judgment was entered. The district court entered a final divorce judgment after her death, and the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed, holding Sharleen's death abated the divorce action. Sharleen had a will, and Sharleen and Glen's son, Mark Albrecht, was appointed personal representative of the Estate. In February 2017, the Estate petitioned for the return, partition, and sale of estate assets. The Estate alleged Sharleen owned a one-half interest in various farm machinery, equipment, and vehicles, which were in Glen's control. The Estate alleged a partition and sale of the assets was necessary to satisfy estate expenses. Glen objected to the petition, arguing Sharleen did not have an ownership interest in the assets. A trial was conducted in 2018, the result of which ended with judgment in favor of the estate. Glen argued on appeal that the district court erred by finding Sharleen had an interest in the assets at issue, and the court abused its discretion by allowing personal representative’s and attorney’s fees. Finding no reversible error or abuse of discretion, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Estate of Albrecht" on Justia Law
Estate of Blikre
Sharron and Jennifer Jensen appealed district court orders: (1) admitting a copy of Jacquelynn Blikre’s will to formal probate; (2) ruling Blikre’s will was valid; and (3) denying a petition for formal probate of Blikre’s alleged holographic will. Blikre executed a will in 2005 leaving her estate, including real property and minerals, to her sister, Sandra Nordahl, and named Nordahl personal representative of the estate. Blikre’s other sister, Sharron, was excluded from the will. In April 2016, Blikre was hospitalized after suffering from several health issues. In May 2016, she was moved to a Bismarck nursing home and resided there until her death in September 2016. While she was hospitalized, Blikre appointed Sharron as Blikre’s attorney-in-fact for financial matters. Blikre had also appointed Sandra's husband, Jean Nordahl, as Blikre’s attorney-in-fact under a durable power of attorney in March 2016. After Blikre’s death, Sandra petitioned for formal probate of Blikre’s will, attaching a copy the petition because the original will was missing. Jensen objected to Nordahl’s petition, claiming Blikre’s will should have been considered revoked because the original was missing. The district court appointed Nordahl personal representative subject to a decision on whether the copy of Blikre’s will would be admitted to probate. Sandra died after her appointment as personal representative. Jean petitioned for appointment as successor personal representative. Sharron also petitioned for appointment. At an October 2017 hearing, the parties presented evidence on the existence of Blikre’s will and whether she intended to revoke it before her death. In February 2018, the district court entered an order finding sufficient evidence existed to rebut the presumption that Blikre intended to revoke her will. The court ordered formal probate of the copy of the will and appointed Jean as personal representative. In April 2018, Sharron appealed the district court’s order, and Jennifer petitioned for formal probate of a holographic will and to vacate the February 2018 order admitting the copy of Blikre’s will to probate. Jennifer's petition alleged Blikre wrote instructions in 2016 relating to her estate. Jensen claimed the handwritten documents were a holographic will that revoked the 2005 will and distributed Blikre’s estate to her sisters and nieces. In December 2018, Jennifer and Sharron moved for partial summary judgment. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court dismissed Jensen’s petition, finding Blikre’s handwritten documents did not express her testamentary intent to distribute her estate and did not revoke her 2005 will. The court also found Blikre’s 2005 will was valid because credible evidence showed the will was executed in front of two witnesses. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Estate of Blikre" on Justia Law
Herman v. Herman, et al.
Paul Herman appealed a judgment entered in favor of the trustees of a family trust [collectively the Trustees] following the district court’s granting of the Trust’s motion for summary judgment. Herman argued the district court erred by finding the 120 day period to challenge the actions of the Trustees expired before he initiated these proceedings without providing him an opportunity to conduct discovery. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the 120 day limitation period under N.D.C.C. 59-10.1-03(1) did not begin until receipt of the notice of the Trustees actions, reversed the judgment of the district court, and remanded with instructions to allow Herman additional time to conduct discovery pursuant to his request under N.D.R.Civ.P. 56(f). View "Herman v. Herman, et al." on Justia Law
Estate of Hall
Brianna McLaen appealed an order granting Tyson Hall’s petition for an elective share of the Estate of Kandi Ann Hall. McLaen argued the district court erred by determining Tyson Hall could claim an elective share of Kandi Hall’s intestate estate and by deciding a warranty deed for certain real property was void. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded a surviving spouse may claim an elective share of an intestate estate under N.D.C.C. 30.1-05-01, but the court erred in determining ownership of the real property. The matter was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Estate of Hall" on Justia Law
Johnston Land Company, LLC v. Sorenson, et al.
Johnston Land Company, LLC appealed dismissal of its claims against attorney Sara Sorenson and the law firm Ohnstad Twichell, P.C., and appealed the court’s decision with regard to Johnston paying their costs and attorney fees in the amount of $27,386.23. In March 2015 Sorenson, who represented beneficiaries of an estate, recorded an affidavit in Grand Forks County, North Dakota pertaining to the probate case stating certain property may be subject to future legal proceedings. In August 2017, Johnston filed a petition claiming Sorenson’s affidavit was a nonconsensual common law lien under N.D.C.C. ch. 35-35 and sought damages. In September 2017, shortly before the district court rendered its decision denying the petition, Sorenson filed a notice of lis pendens on the property on behalf of the beneficiaries in another action seeking to levy execution on the property. The district court concluded Sorenson’s March 2015 affidavit did not constitute a nonconsensual common law lien, and the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed in part. However, the Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded, finding when Sorenson filed the affidavit in 2015, there was no action affecting title to the property. After remand, Sorenson recorded a second affidavit, which referenced her March 2015 affidavit, the September 2017 notice of lis pendens, and stated “[t]he Notice of Lis Pendens supersedes the Affidavit.” Sorenson and the law firm then moved for summary judgment dismissing items “c” through “g” in Johnston’s petition and, for the first time, requested an award of attorney fees. The district court granted the motion for summary judgment. The court concluded items “c” through “g” were rendered moot by either its previous decision that Sorenson’s first affidavit was not a nonconsensual common law lien or Sorenson’s filing of the second affidavit and the notice of lis pendens. The court also ruled summary judgment was appropriate because Johnston failed to produce any evidence or legal theory to support recovery under items “c” through “g.” Relying on its earlier ruling that Sorenson’s first affidavit was not a nonconsensual common law lien, the court also awarded Sorenson and the law firm for its costs and attorney fees. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district did not err with respect to the grant of summary judgment, but reversed as to fees, finding request for costs and attorney fees came too late, and the court’s award exceeded the scope of our mandate “to rule on items ‘c’ through ‘g’ in Johnston’s petition.” View "Johnston Land Company, LLC v. Sorenson, et al." on Justia Law