Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Dakota Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's judgment summarily dismissing Petitioners' request that the court declare an original trust and its first amendment valid, holding that the circuit court erred. After the settlor of the trust died, Petitioners filed a petition requesting judicial supervision of the trust under S.D. Codified Laws 21-22-9. Petitioners further requested a declaration of the validity of the original trust and its first amendment, arguing that subsequent amendments were invalid. The circuit court granted a successor trustee's motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that a challenge to the validity of a trust cannot be asserted in a petition for judicial supervision but could only be commenced via service of summons within one year after the settlor's death. The circuit court granted the successor trustee's motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a circuit court may consider the validity of a trust in a petition for judicial supervision, and therefore, Petitioners' petition, which included a request that the circuit court determine the validity of the trust amendments, property commenced a judicial proceeding; and (2) the trust challenge was timely because Petitioners filed their petition within the one-year timeframe after the settlor's death. View "In re Carver Revocable Trust" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's decision invalidating the will and codicil of Dora Lee Gaaskjolen on the basis of undue influence, holding that the circuit court's determination of undue influence was not clearly erroneous. Dora Lee and her husband, Marlin, executed reciprocal wills giving their property to one another upon death, and their daughters, Audrey and Vicki, were named as equal, alternate beneficiaries. After Marlin died, Dora Lee executed a new will and, later, another will and codicil that disinherited Vicki and left her entire estate to Audrey. After Dora Lee died, Vicki challenged the will and codicil, claiming that Dora Lee lacked testamentary capacity and that Audrey had unduly influence Dora Lee. The circuit court concluded that Dora Lee had testamentary capacity but that Dora Lee's last will and codicil were the result of undue influence by Audrey. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in finding the last will and the codicil invalid because of Audrey's undue influence. View "In re Estate Of Gaaskjolen" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the will of Russell Tank naming his neighbor Jason Bender as his sole heir and disinheriting his four adult children (Children) the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the circuit court dismissing Children's petition challenging the will, holding that summary judgment was improperly granted on one of the children's claims of undue influence. Children filed a petition challenging the will naming Bender as Russell's sole heir on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity, insane delusions, and undue influence. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Bender. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the circuit court (1) did not err in concluding that there were no genuine issues of material fact showing Russell lacked testamentary capacity to execute the will; (2) did not err in determining that there were no genuine issues of material fact showing Russell suffered from an insane delusion affecting the terms of his will; and (3) erred in determining that that there were no material issues of fact on one of the children's claim that the will was the product of undue influence but did not err in concluding that there was no evidence to support the remaining children's claim of undue influence. View "In re Estate Of Tank" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of the Estate of Kenneth Stoebner in this breach of fiduciary duty claim against Curtis Huether, who served as Stoebner's attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney, holding that summary judgment was properly granted. Under his role of Stoebner's attorney-infant Huether executed a sale of Stoebner's real property to himself four days before Stoebner died. Stoebner's Estate commenced this action for breach of fiduciary duty, alleging that Huether engaged in an act of self-dealing when he executed the purchase agreement and warranty deed in his own favor as the attorney-in-fact for Stoebner. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the Estate and ordered that the sale be declared null and void. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that no genuine disputes of material fact existed regarding Huether's fiduciary duty to Stoebner to not engage in acts of self-dealing under the provisions of the power of attorney. View "Estate of Stoebner v. Huether" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court finding that Stanton Fox had died intestate, determining Fox’s heirs, and entering letters for co-personal representatives, holding that the circuit court did not commit clear error in the proceedings below. When Fox died he was survived by five siblings. Lynette Herstedt and Fox were in an intimate relationship for more than twenty years before Fox died, but the relationship ended prior to his death. Before he died, Fox drafted a handwritten document stating that he wished to revoke all prior wills and codicils. Herstedt filed an application for informal probate and submitted a copy of a former will Fox had drafted. Fox’s siblings claimed the original will was revoked by the subsequent amendment. After a hearing, the circuit court ultimately found that Fox had died intestate, determined Fox’s heirs, and appointed co-personal representatives. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) did not clearly err in finding that Herstedt had not proffered a valid will because Fox had revoked it prior to his death; (2) did not err in granting the various petitions; and (3) did not abuse its discretion in proceeding with a hearing on November 1, 2017. View "In re Estate of Fox" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the circuit court’s dismissal of this challenge to a decedent’s pre-death conveyance, holding that Plaintiff may have an unjust enrichment claim against one of the defendants in this case. Plaintiff’s father, the decedent in this case, promised Plaintiff he would leave her half of his estate if Plaintiff conveyed considerable amounts of land to her father and nephew. The decedent, however, left Plaintiff only $30,000 in his will after conveying the vast majority of his multi-million-dollar estate to Plaintiff’s nephew. Plaintiff sued her nephew and the estate alleging fraud, contract, and unjust enrichment. The circuit court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the denial of the breach of contract claim, holding that this claim failed under S.D. Codified Laws 29A-2-514 because it was not evidenced in writing; (2) affirmed the denial of Plaintiff’s fraud claim, holding that S.D. Codified Laws 29A-3-803 barred this claim; and (3) reversed the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim against her nephew, holding that genuine issues of material fact existed precluding summary judgment on this claim. View "Huston v. Martin" on Justia Law

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At issue was not the circuit court’s subject matter jurisdiction over a trust but, rather, the circuit court’s authority to enforce an order. The beneficiary of the trust filed a motion for an order to show cause for why the trustee failed to follow an order of the circuit court. The circuit court held the trustee in contempt, found that the trustee had breached his fiduciary duties to the beneficiary, and found that the trustee had misappropriated trust funds. The court ordered the trustee to personally reimburse the trust for the misappropriated funds and to personally pay the beneficiary attorney fees. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court had authority to enforce its order and did not clearly err when it found that the trustee violated the order; and (2) the circuit court did not err when it found that the trustee breached his fiduciary duties as trustee of the trust and did not err in its remaining decisions. View "In re Heupel Family Revocable Trust" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed Appellant’s appeal from a circuit court’s order revoking the clerk of court’s issuance of letters of appointment and the clerk’s statement of informal probate and appointment of personal representative, holding that the circuit court’s order was not a final order from which an appeal can be taken. On appeal, Appellant argued that the circuit court erred in its revocation without giving Appellant notice or an opportunity to be heard. The Supreme Court held that, until further proceedings determined the rights of the parties as it related to the appointment of a personal representative and to the probate of the decedent’s will, the Court did not have appellate jurisdiction under S.D. Codified Laws 15-26A-3(2). View "Estate of Stanton W. Fox" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court ruling that an option agreement was void and ordering Wayne Snaza, as trustee of the Dennis Snaza Family Trust, to distribute the net income and residue of the principle of the trust to the beneficiaries upon completion of its term. Wayne gave notice of his intent to exercise his rights under the option agreement to purchase the real property held by the Trust. The circuit court concluded that the option agreement was void because it could not survive the contemporaneous execution of deeds to the same real property, and even if the option agreement was valid, Wayne waived his rights when the real property was transferred to the Trust. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because Wayne presented no evidence to rebut the presumption that the property was already conveyed before the option agreement became effective, the circuit court did not err in finding the option agreement invalid; and (2) the circuit court did not violate Wayne’s due-process rights or abuse its discretion by ordering Wayne to distribute the Trust at the conclusion of its term and in accordance with the Trust instrument. View "In re Dennis Snaza Family Trust" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court compelling Defendant to return real property transferred to him by his late father and the jury verdict requiring Defendant to pay general and punitive damages to his father’s estate but reversed the court’s order requiring Defendant to pay the Estate’s attorney fees. In this case involving the consolidation of both probate and civil actions, the Estate of the decedent argued that Defendant exercised undue influence over the decedent and that Defendant converted the decedent’s property and violated his confidential relationship with the decedent in doing so. The Estate also sought punitive damages for Defendant’s alleged fraudulent behavior. The jury returned a verdict awarding the Estate general and punitive damages. The circuit court then ordered the real property previously transferred to Defendant returned to the Estate. The circuit court also awarded the estate attorney fees. The Supreme Court held that the circuit court (1) possessed subject matter jurisdiction and authority to adjudicate disposition of contrast property; (2) did not err by not granting Defendant summary judgment or by consolidating the probate and civil case; (3) properly denied Defendant’s motion for a new trial; and (4) did not have statutory authority to assess attorney fees against Defendant. View "Estate of Ducheneaux v. Ducheneaux" on Justia Law