Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court
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Appellant Marie Yammine, as former wife and primary beneficiary of a two million dollar life insurance policy issued by Respondent ReliaStar Life Insurance Company to her former husband, Dr. Jean Bernard, appealed a declaratory judgment finding the contingent beneficiary, Appellee Roland Ghoussoub, was entitled to the policy's death benefit. Dr. Bernard died after the trial court granted the parties' divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues. The trial court declared Yammine and Bernard were divorced and that 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) operated to revoke her beneficiary designation to the death benefits. Whether Oklahoma's revocation-upon-divorce statute, 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A), applied when one party dies after the granting of the divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues, was a matter of first impression for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Court concluded Section 178(A) required a final judgment on all issues, and that the trial court erred by interpreting 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) to revoke Yammine's beneficiary designation in Bernard's life insurance policy based on an order granting divorce when the final judgment on all issues remained pending at husband's death. The trial court's declaratory judgment was reversed, and this case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghoussoub v. Yammine" on Justia Law

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Husband filed a petition seeking appointment as guardian over his wife. The parties' daughter, Christy Hladik, objected and sought to have herself appointed. In July 2020, the trial court entered the Court's First Amended Plan for Care and Treatment of Ward and Management of Property of the Ward. A month later, the trial court appointed daughter as guardian over the person and property of Wife. Husband appealed, and on the Oklahoma Supreme Court's own motion, the matter was retained. After reviewing the record and briefs, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's rulings. View "Walterscheidt v. Hladik" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-respondent Keely Rickard purchased the subject residential real property from the Coulimore Family Living Trust, U/A/D March 6, 2014 ("the Coulimore Trust"). Rickard later sued Defendants-petitioners Jonathan Coulimore and Elinor Coulimore, individually, and as Trustees of the Coulimore Trust, for damages from defects they failed to disclose. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to review a certified interlocutory order to determine whether the transaction was exempt from the Residential Property Condition Disclosure Act (RPCDA). The Court found the transaction was a transfer by a fiduciary who was not an owner occupant of the subject property in the course of the administration of a trust and, pursuant to 60 O.S.2011 section 838(A)(3), the transaction was exempt from the RPCDA. The Court therefore affirmed partial summary judgment as to the inapplicability of the RPCDA and remanded for further proceedings. View "Rickard v. Coulimore" on Justia Law

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A dispute arose concerning control over a deceased individual's remains. The trial court ruled that testimony regarding Decedent's purchase of a burial plot and gravestone in 1966 was adequate evidence of a written document instructing the method and manner of handling his remains as outlined in 21 O.S. 2011 section 1158(1). In furtherance of this finding, the trial court entered a ruling compelling the surviving spouse, who was appointed as personal representative, to bury Decedent's body. The personal representative appealed, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order granting injunctive relief. The Supreme Court held the Movants failed to present sufficient evidence of a document executed by the Decedent that satisfied the requirements of section 1158(1). View "In the Matter of the Estate of Downing" on Justia Law

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The decedent, Buddy Chester, wrote a holographic will leaving everything to his grandson, Brandon Strouder Chester. The will neglected to mention the decedent's son, Steven Chester and daughter, Lisa Martin. The son requested that the trial court determine that he was a pretermitted heir under the will. After a hearing, the trial court determined that the face of the holographic will showed intent to omit the son as a beneficiary, and that the omission was not accidental. The son appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari, and held that the testator's son was a pretermitted heir under his father's holographic will. "Testators have the freedom to dispose of their estate as they wish. Nevertheless, even in the case of a holographic will, which requires less formalities and no particular form, a testator must comply with the law regarding pretermitted heirs. The will neglected to list either of his two children or acknowledge their existence, thus rendering them pretermitted heirs. There are no ambiguities on the face of the will. Therefore, extrinsic evidence may not be used to determine the testator's intent concerning why he neglected to mention his children." View "In the Matter of the Estate of Chester" on Justia Law

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After decedent Charles Fulks died, his wife, petitioner-appellee Dorothy Fulks, filed the probate of his estate in the District Court of Nowata County, Oklahoma. An heir at law-appellant, the decedent's daughter, Tammy McPherson, objected to the probate in Nowata County. She argued that: (1) the decedent died in Osage County, and all of the decedent's real and personal property was located in Osage County; (2) pursuant to 58 O.S. 2011 section 5, the proper venue for the probate was solely in Osage County, Oklahoma; and (3) the case should have been transferred pursuant to the doctrine of intrastate forum non conveniens. The trial court determined that Nowata County was also a proper venue, and it denied the daughter's request to transfer the cause to Osage County. The daughter appealed, and after review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held venue was proper in Osage County. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Fulks" on Justia Law

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Dayna Foresee (Dayna) and Thomas Allen Foresee (Decedent) were married for thirty-nine years. The record was unclear as to precisely when the parties separated, but Dayna moved out of the parties' marital residence in Eufaula, Oklahoma and filed a divorce proceeding in Tulsa County in July 2019. Decedent had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). On December 31, 2019, he executed his Last Will and Testament, naming two of the parties' children, appellees Jeremy Foresee and Jacie Michelle Cook, to serve as co-personal representatives. Further, the will expressly excluded Dayna from taking anything from Decedent's estate. Decedent passed away from Lou Gehrig's disease on January 11, 2020. Two days later, Appellees filed a probate petition seeking appointment as special administrators of Decedent's estate. Appellees alleged the Decedent had "orally expressed wishes for disposition of his bodily remains." Dayna filed an objection contesting the decedent's will to probate, and sought a restraining order and injunction. She argued the will was invalid because the decedent was of unsound mind at the time of the will's drafting, thereby making any assignment of the right to control his body also invalid. Appellees claimed that as representatives of the Decedent's estate, duly appointed under the terms of his will, they were to be afforded statutory priority to control the disposition of the remains. The will vested the co-personal representatives with the power to pay debts associated with Decedent's "last illness, funeral, and burial;" however, nothing in the will explicitly entrusted them with control over decedent's remains. The trial court ruled the decedent's last will and testament sufficiently vested power over his remains in the named personal representatives, citing 21 O.S. 2011 §sections 1151(B) and 1158(2). The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained this appeal as a question of first impression and affirmed the trial court's ruling in part. The Supreme Court held that the will did not expressly assign authority over the remains such that it satisfied the requirements of section 1151(B); however, the personal representatives did have priority over the body according to section 1158(2). As such, the trial court properly denied surviving spouse's request for a temporary injunction. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Foresee" on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to address whether a child placed for adoption was a pretermitted heir under the terms of the will. The decedent, Judith K. Pratt, left her entire estate to her caregivers and friends, neglecting any family. Her son, plaintiff-appellant Robinson Rogers, which she gave up for adoption at birth but whom she later established a relationship with, objected to the admittance of Pratt's will to probate. He alleged that he was a pretermitted heir, and that the will was procured as the result of undue influence by Pratt's caregivers. The trial court determined that Rogers was not a pretermitted heir and admitted the will to probate. Rogers appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court held that Rogers qualified as a pretermitted heir, and that the evidence was insufficient to show that the omission was intentional. View "Rogers v. Estate of Pratt" on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to address whether two children who were named beneficiaries in a will were pretermitted heirs. After Fred Franklin James, Sr.'s will was admitted for probate, two of this three children objected to it. One of the children (the daughter) asserted that some of the father's real property, a mechanic's/body shop, should belong to her because she had purchased it from her father pursuant to an oral contract. The other child (a son) asserted that he was a pretermitted heir because the proceeds of the insurance policy his father left to him in the will had beneficiaries inconsistent with the will. In a second, separate case, the daughter also filed a breach of contract/creditor/equitable action against the estate also, again asserting that she purchased the body shop from her father pursuant to an oral agreement. The trial court consolidated the cases and determined that both children were pretermitted. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined neither child was pretermitted because their beneficiary status on a non-probate asset differed from a bequest in a will. The Court reversed part of the trial court's order which found both children were pretermitted. "While the daughter may be entitled to a refund for money she paid to the decedent or improvements she made to the shop property, because she was not pretermitted, she is not entitled to an intestate share of the shop property." Consequently, the consolidated case was remanded for further proceedings. View "In re The Estate of James" on Justia Law

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The estate of an individual that died as a result of an injury incurred while being a patient of a nursing home sued the nursing home facility in a wrongful death action. The district court entered default judgment for Plaintiff after Defendant failed to file a response or appear in court multiple times. Over 200 days later, Defendant filed a petition to vacate default judgment and the petition was granted. Plaintiff appealed the ruling, and the Court of Civil Appeals (COCA), affirmed the trial court's decision. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded it was "patently clear" Defendant's arguments for the Petition to Vacate Judgment as to liability was without merit. "[The Nursing Home] Meeker was given a multitude of opportunities to respond to the litigation, but failed to respond to a single instance for 280 days after the initial service of process. Meeker failed to respond to any service of process or appear at any hearing, and did not have an argument with merit to support the inability to respond to the litigation." Accordingly the Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals, reversed the trial court's judgment granting the Petition To Vacate Judgment as to liability, and remanded this matter for a trial on damages. View "Williams v. Meeker North Dawson Nursing, LLC" on Justia Law