Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Glenn Solberg appealed a district court judgment dismissing his complaint against Richard McKennett. This action was related to Solberg’s litigation involving the Estate of Lyle Nelson. Lyle Nelson was married to Solberg’s mother Lillian (Solberg) Nelson, who died in 2003. Lyle died in 2012, and McKennett was the attorney for the personal representative of Lyle's estate. In June 2013, Solberg filed a petition for allowance of claim against Lyle's estate, asserting that under his mother’s 1985 will and 1997 codicil he was entitled to 100 mineral acres and had an option to purchase certain property. The district court dismissed Solberg’s claim, concluding the 100 mineral acres and the option property were never held by the estate, and were never under the control of or owned by Lyle Nelson. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of Solberg’s claim. In April 2020, Solberg sued McKennett for fraud and injury to person. Solberg alleged McKennett committed fraud by misleading him during the probate of Lyle Nelson’s estate and by dismissing his claim against Nelson’s estate. Solberg requested $400,000 in damages. McKennett moved to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming Solberg’s complaint did not specify the circumstances constituting fraud, and on statute of limitations grounds. The district court concluded Solberg's claims were time-barred because Solberg was aware of McKennett's alleged wrongdoing before April 2014. The North Dakota Supreme Court concurred Solberg's claims against McKennett were time barred, thus the district court did not err in granting McKennett's motion to dismiss. View "Solberg v. McKennett" on Justia Law

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Neil Olson appealed a district court order dismissing his second petition requesting formal probate proceedings for the Estate of his great-uncle, Neil Johnson. The court found Neil Olson was estopped from challenging the court’s prior finding that he was not an interested person under N.D.C.C. 30.1-01-06(26) and therefore lacked standing to assert his claims. To this, the North Dakota Supreme Court concurred and affirmed the dismissal of Olson’s second petition. View "Estate of Johnson" on Justia Law

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Gail Howard, Bruce Lindvig, and Milton Lindvig, personally and as Successor Personal Representative to the Estate of Ralph H. Lindvig, (together “the estate of Ralph Lindvig”) appealed a judgment entered in consolidated formal probate proceedings. In 2007, due to financial concerns related to paying for Ralph's care, his wife Dorothy Lindvig, acting as Ralph's attorney in fact, sold portions of Ralph's interests in the land he received from his parents to Milton Lindvig, Ralph's brother. The transfers were made by two warranty deeds, each of which severed the minerals and reserved them to Ralph and Dorothy as joint tenants. In May of 2007, Dorothy, again acting as Ralph's attorney in fact, conveyed the Wattam land to herself by warranty deed. When Ralph died, Dorothy was the personal representative of his estate. After her death in 2009, she was replaced by Milton. Dorothy died intestate, survived by a brother and her sister, Patricia Jellum, who was the personal representative of Dorothy's estate. The estate of Ralph Lindvig filed a petition in Dorothy's probate proceedings to set aside the intestate distribution of the minerals she severed and the Wattam land she conveyed to herself. The estate argued the transfers were beyond Dorothy's authority because they diminished the size of his estate and were not approved by a court, all in contravention of the power of attorney’s gifting provisions. The parties stipulated to consolidating the two probates as formal administrations. The probate court determined Dorothy did not breach her fiduciary duties by engaging in improper self-dealing. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the probate court's judgment. View "Estate of Lindvig" on Justia Law

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Donald Moore, Scott Moore, and the Glenn W. Moore & Sons partnership appealed an amended judgment ordering the partnership to pay $140,206 to Delbert Moore’s step-children, Charles Minard, Candice Eberhart, and Terry Minard. Before his death, Delbert Moore was a partner with his brother Donald Moore and nephew Scott Moore in the Glenn W. Moore & Sons partnership, a ranching business. Delbert Moore’s will directed that a majority of his real property be sold within six months of his death and the proceeds be distributed to his three step-children, Charles Minard, Candice Eberhart, Terry Minard, and his nephew Scott Moore. His will also devised his one-third interest in the partnership to his three step- children. Delbert Moore’s real property sold in May 2015. The partnership and Delbert Moore’s estate each hired an accountant to prepare an accounting of the partnership’s profits and losses; the Estate’s one-third share of the partnership’s profits was $140,206. The partnership argues the district court erred in adopting the Estate’s accounting of the partnership’s profits and losses. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Estate of Moore" on Justia Law

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Joel Finstrom, James Finstrom and Annette Hauser appeal from orders and a judgment denying their claims related to Ruth Finstrom’s estate. Ruth and Carl Finstrom had seven children: James, Daniel , Joel, Annette Hauser, Janice Schulz, Mark, and Rebecca Lusk. In the late 1980s, Carl and Daniel Finstrom began farming together. According to trial testimony, Daniel made oral agreements with his parents to acquire three quarters of real property. In 2011 Daniel believed he had fulfilled the agreements, but Carl requested an additional $240,000 for the property. In August 2011, Ruth and Carl executed identical wills. The wills devised one-third of a quarter section of property to Joel, stating he had paid one-third of the price for the property. The quarter devised to Joel was one of the quarters Daniel believed he purchased. Carl died in November 2011. In December 2012, Ruth executed a contract for deed conveying the three quarters of real property to Daniel and Teresa Finstrom for $240,000. Ruth executed a new will in July 2015, devising the residue of her estate to her seven children in equal shares. In July 2016, Ruth conveyed additional real property to her daughter Janice Schulz. Ruth died in December 2016. In December 2016, the district court admitted Ruth Finstrom’s 2015 will to informal probate and appointed James personal representative. In March 2017, Joel filed a claim against the estate, asserting the estate owed him $200,000 for the value of an interest he owned in Ruth's real property. Joel also claimed the estate owed him $2,000 per month for providing Ruth in-home health care from May 1, 2015, to April 21, 2016. In May 2017, Mark petitioned for the removal of James as personal representative. In September 2017, James, individually and as personal representative, sued Schulz and Daniel and Teresa Finstrom seeking to invalidate the real property conveyances Ruth made to them. James Finstrom argued Ruth was unduly influenced in conveying the property. Schulz and Daniel and Teresa Finstrom denied the claims and counterclaimed, arguing James breached his fiduciary duties to the estate. James resigned as personal representative and Heartland Trust Company was appointed as successor personal representative. On March 12, 2019, the district court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law and order for judgment, ruling Ruth's 2015 will was valid and revoked her 2011 will. The court denied Joel's claim he had an interest in Ruth's real property, and upheld Ruth's conveyances to Schulz and Daniel and Teresa Finstrom. The court found Ruth did not lack mental capacity to make the conveyances. The court also found Daniel and Teresa Finstrom did not have a confidential relationship with Ruth, and Ruth was not unduly influenced. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Joel, James and Annette's claims against the estate. View "Estate of Finstrom" on Justia Law

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The district court affirmed the North Dakota Department of Human Service’s determination that Harold Ring was ineligible for Medicaid. When these proceedings began, Ring was ninety-six years old and living in the Good Samaritan Home in Mohall. An application for Medicaid was submitted on his behalf in April 2018. It was denied due to disqualifying transfers. Ring’s daughter, Nancy Ring, filed a second Medicaid application on Ring’s behalf in November 2018. The November application was also denied because Ring’s “client share (recipient liability) is more than the medical expenses.” Ring died after the Department issued its decision but before the district court affirmed. No party was substituted on Ring’s behalf for purposes of the district court proceedings. In 2020, Ring's attorney filed a notice of appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court, claiming the Department’s imposition of a penalty period due to disqualifying transfers was inappropriate because Ring was a vulnerable adult who was financially exploited. On May 1, 2020, the Good Samaritan Society and the Department stipulated to dismissal of the probate petition because “a Special Administrator is not needed at this time.” The court dismissed the petition on May 5, 2020. The Supreme Court determined that essential issues remained unresolved in this matter: since neither side filed a notice of death or moved to substitute a party, the district court did not determine whether this action survived Ring's death, and if it did, whether a proper successor was available for substitution. The matter was remanded for these findings and substitution. View "Ring v. NDDHS" on Justia Law

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Kelly Grenz, as personal representative of the Estate of Leo Grenz, appealed orders and judgments partially invalidating the will of Leo Grenz. The district court invalidated a portion of the will resulting from undue influence and gave effect to a portion of a contingent distribution clause the court found was consistent with Leo Grenz’s testamentary intent. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed, concluding the court properly applied the equitable doctrine of partial invalidity. View "Estate of Grenz" on Justia Law

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Stephen Zundel sued his brothers, Loren and Richard Zundel, seeking possession of personal property subject to a May 2013 bill of transfer. Loren and Richard Zundel believed the property was part of their father's, Edwin Zundel’s estate. Loren served as personal representative of the estate and answered the complaint, denying Stephen's allegations. Loren sought declaratory judgment claiming the bill of transfer was invalid because Stephen obtained Edwin Zundel’s signature through undue influence and the document was falsely notarized by Stephen who was not a notary public. Stephen appealed when the district court found the bill of transfer was void as a result of Stephen's undue influence over his father, and that the bill of transfer was not validly accepted because it was not signed by a notary. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Zundel v. Zundel, et al." on Justia Law

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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

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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