Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Glenn Solberg appealed an amended judgment dismissing his claims against the estate of his stepfather, Lyle Nelson ("Lyle Nelson Estate"). Solberg challenged the district court's dismissal of his claim seeking ownership of 100 mineral acres and seeking to enforce an option to purchase real property. The court determined that the mineral interests and real property alleged to be subject to the option were never within the Lyle Nelson Estate and that Solberg's claim was also untimely. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the amended judgment and granted the Lyle Nelson Estate's request for an award of costs and attorney fees for a frivolous appeal under N.D.R.App.P. 38. View "Estate of Nelson" on Justia Law

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Sandy Botteicher ("Botteicher") appeals from a judgment dismissing her claims against Pam and Darwin Becker (collectively "Beckers") and awarding the Beckers $5,000 for their attorney fees. Botteicher and Pam Becker are sisters and heirs to their mother's estate. Following the death of their father in January 2015, Pam Becker was appointed legal guardian for their mother who was residing in a nursing home. Their mother died in July 2015. A third party was appointed personal representative of their mother's estate ("the estate"). Following the filing of the closing documents by the personal representative, Botteicher filed a number of petitions or motions. In her petitions, Botteicher sought to set aside what the parties refer to as the "Warehouse" transaction, a real property transfer in Dickinson that occurred in 2010 and 2011. Botteicher also requested an evidentiary hearing, objected to the final accounting, sought formal testacy proceedings, sought the disqualification of the attorney representing the personal representative, moved for the appointment of herself as the personal representative and sought to keep the estate open by alleging that numerous items of her mother's personal property were missing from the inventory and appraisement. The probate court denied all of the petitions or motions filed by Botteicher. The court denied the petition seeking to set aside the Warehouse transfer after concluding the personal representative, not Botteicher, had "standing" to assert an action to challenge the Warehouse transfer in the probate proceedings, and that the request to set aside the property transfer was "not properly in front of the Court." In the probate proceedings, Botteicher was attempting to personally initiate an action against the Beckers to set aside a transfer made by the decedent. The probate court issued an order approving the inventory and appraisement as well as the final account and distribution. Botteicher did not appeal the final decree of distribution. Approximately one month after the probate proceedings were closed, Botteicher and her daughter, Alexandra Botteicher, brought this action against the Beckers, alleging multiple claims regarding the estate's transactions under the Beckers. Unsuccessful, Botteicher challenged the district court's determination that some of her claims were previously resolved in separate probate proceedings and were barred by res judicata, that her claim for interference with the right of burial and her claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress could be dismissed as a matter of law, and that the Beckers were entitled to an award of attorney fees. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Botteicher v. Becker" on Justia Law

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Linda Nelson, Jill Mattson, Jeffrey Mattson, and Joan Louise Mattson appealed the district court's judgment quieting title to property in the Steven R. Mattson Living Trust and the Roald F. Mattson Living Trust (the "Trusts"), and awarding damages to Steven R. Mattson, the Steven R. Mattson Living Trust, and the Roald F. Mattson Living Trust (collectively, the "Mattsons"). Because the joint tenancy between Leif, Alf, and Roald Mattson was not severed prior to Leif Mattson's death, the North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court did not clearly err by quieting title to property in the Trusts. Further, the district court did not clearly err by awarding damages to the Trusts for the oil and gas lease payments under a theory of conversion. However, the district court erred by awarding damages to Steven Mattson for the amount he paid to Leif's heirs for the purported interest they owned in the surface of the property because unjust enrichment was unavailable and the voluntary payment doctrine applies. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Nelson v. Mattson" on Justia Law

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Glenvin Albrecht ("Glenvin") appealed, and Mark Albrecht ("Mark"), the personal representative of the estate ("the Estate") of Sharleen Albrecht ("Sharleen"), cross-appealed orders in an informal probate denying Glenvin's claims against the Estate. Glenvin argued that the district court's decision to deny Glenvin a recovery of jointly held marital assets transferred by Sharleen to the parties' son, Mark, should be reversed because, prior to Sharleen's death, she transferred the assets in violation of restraining provisions in a pending divorce proceeding. Glenvin further contended the district court abused its discretion in denying Glenvin's request for a recovery under principles of equity and its finding that Sharleen had not engaged in economic misconduct during prior divorce proceedings was clearly erroneous. The Estate argued that the district court improperly extended the time to commence an action against the Estate and erred as a matter of law in determining that Glenvin held the status of a surviving spouse with regard to the Estate. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order holding that Glenvin was a surviving spouse, denying Glenvin's request for contempt, the district court's order denying Glenvin's request for equitable relief and the district court's order denying Glenvin's request for relief from Sharleen's economic waste. View "Estate of Albrecht" on Justia Law

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Glenvin Albrecht ("Glenvin") appealed, and Mark Albrecht ("Mark"), the personal representative of the estate ("the Estate") of Sharleen Albrecht ("Sharleen"), cross-appealed orders in an informal probate denying Glenvin's claims against the Estate. Glenvin argued that the district court's decision to deny Glenvin a recovery of jointly held marital assets transferred by Sharleen to the parties' son, Mark, should be reversed because, prior to Sharleen's death, she transferred the assets in violation of restraining provisions in a pending divorce proceeding. Glenvin further contended the district court abused its discretion in denying Glenvin's request for a recovery under principles of equity and its finding that Sharleen had not engaged in economic misconduct during prior divorce proceedings was clearly erroneous. The Estate argued that the district court improperly extended the time to commence an action against the Estate and erred as a matter of law in determining that Glenvin held the status of a surviving spouse with regard to the Estate. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order holding that Glenvin was a surviving spouse, denying Glenvin's request for contempt, the district court's order denying Glenvin's request for equitable relief and the district court's order denying Glenvin's request for relief from Sharleen's economic waste. View "Estate of Albrecht" on Justia Law

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John Dixon appealed the grant of summary judgment that dismissed his action to remove Billie Dixon as trustee of the Shirley A. Dixon Trust and sought reimbursement, an accounting and court supervision of the trust. In 2013 Billie, as trustee, sued John to reform a warranty deed their father executed conveying a tract of McKenzie County real property to John. Billie contended William Dixon intended to reserve the mineral interests as property of the trust. The district court agreed and reformed the warranty deed to reserve and except the minerals and retain the mineral interests as property of the trust to be distributed in accordance with the trust's terms and conditions. Shortly after the reformation action was commenced in 2013, John sued Billie seeking an accounting of the trust, her removal as trustee, court supervised administration of the trust, reimbursement of the trust for unauthorized distributions, and his attorney fees expended in the action. During multiple trial postponements, Shirley Dixon died in 2015. About two months before the scheduled February 2017 trial, Billie moved for summary judgment dismissal of the lawsuit. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the case was not moot and genuine issues of material fact precluded disposition by summary judgment. The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dixon v. Dixon" on Justia Law

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Timothy Betz appealed a district court order under N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 58, prohibiting him from filing any new litigation or documents in existing litigation without first obtaining leave of court. In 1994, the Emelia Hirsch June 9, 1994, Irrevocable Trust was created. Trust beneficiaries were Emelia Hirsch's three children and ten grandchildren, including Betz. In 2003, Emelia requested the district court to dissolve the trust. In 2008, after protracted litigation, the district court entered an order reforming the trust from an irrevocable trust to a revocable trust, which was affirmed on appeal. Betz continued litigation relating to the trust: in February 2017, Betz moved the district court to reopen the case and moved to immediately vacate the 2008 order. The district court filed a notice stating the case had been resolved, it would not be reopened, and no further order would be entered. Although Betz filed an objection to the court's notice and again requested the case be reopened, no appeal was taken of the court's February 2017 denial. In March 2017, Carolyn Twite and Duane Hirsch ("the co-trustees") moved the court seeking a pre-filing order against Betz. In April 2017, after a hearing, the presiding judge issued a notice of proposed findings and order. Betz filed a response in opposition to the proposed findings and order. Thereafter, the district court presiding judge entered an order under N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 58, finding that Betz was a vexatious litigant. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in entering the order, it affirmed. View "Matter of Emelia Hirsch Trust" on Justia Law

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Mary Ann Vig, as personal representative of the Estate of Junietta Swenson, appealed the dismissal of the Estate’s action against Willis Swenson. The Estate argued that Junietta Swenson lacked capacity to execute a July 2012 quit claim deed conveying her home in Noonan to her son, Willis Swenson, and that he converted rent and grain proceeds when he subleased her farmland. After review of the trial court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not clearly err in finding Junietta Swenson was legally competent to execute the quit claim deed, or in finding that Willis Swenson did not convert the proceeds of a sublease of land he leased from Junietta Swenson. View "Vig v. Swenson" on Justia Law

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Shannon Evans appealed an order granting Gerald Feldmann ownership of certain property from Leonhard Feldmann's estate. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not err in finding an inter vivos gift and did not err in finding the proceeds of the standing crop passed with the devise of real property. “The appellate court does not reweigh evidence, reassess witness credibility, or substitute its judgment for the trial court's decision merely because it would have reached a different result. Standing crops at the time of death pass with the real estate to which they are attached unless otherwise specified in a will.” View "Estate of Feldmann" on Justia Law

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Elda McKeown appealed a judgment ordering the distribution of Margie Eagon's estate to McKeown and her nine siblings. When the personal representative sought to close the estate, several of Margie Eagon's children objected to the proposed distribution, arguing the proposed distribution would reduce their inheritances but leave the inheritances of McKeown and Ronald Eagon intact. The district court determined that under the terms of the will the federal estate tax liability should be apportioned among all persons interested in the estate under N.D.C.C. 30.1-20-16(2) (U.P.C. 3-916) rather than abated under N.D.C.C. 30.1-20-02 (U.P.C. 3-902). The court found the proceeds of two $100,000 life insurance policies naming McKeown and Ronald Eagon as the beneficiaries should be used to reduce the estate tax liability. The court also awarded the parties who objected to the proposed distribution of the estate their reasonable costs and attorney fees in the amount of $23,549.26. Because the district court did not err in interpreting the will or the probate code, its findings regarding the use of life insurance proceeds were not clearly erroneous, and it did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney fees, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Estate of Eagon" on Justia Law