Articles Posted in South Dakota Supreme Court

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In this appeal from the settlement of the estate of Fred Finch, Dean Anderson, a beneficiary, challenged the award of expenses, disbursements, and attorney’s fees to the personal representative, Coral Headrick. Specifically, Anderson argued (1) the circuit court erred when it granted allowed Headrick to retain $13,355.42 in fees as personal representative because Headrick engaged in self-dealing while acting as Finch’s fiduciary, and (2) the circuit court erred when it allowed Headrick to recover partial attorney’s fees for the estate’s attorney because the fees allowed were, in fact, fees incurred for the attorney’s work in defending Headrick’s improper self-dealing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the court properly found that Headrick was entitled to reasonable fees incurred for her time spent on the estate not relative to self-dealing; and (2) the court did not abuse its discretion in granting Headrick’s request to recover attorney’s fees from the estate for the work the estate’s attorney performed on behalf of the estate. View "In re Estate of Finch" on Justia Law

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In 2003, Lester Bronson executed a power of attorney appointing Leslie “Butch” Bronson - his son - as his attorney-in-fact. In 2010, Lester informed his bank that he wished to add Butch as a joint owner on one of Lester’s bank accounts. On the day of the transaction, Butch signed Lester’s name on the required bank form while they were together in the bank employee’s office because Lester was allegedly physically unable to sign his own name. In 2014, Lester died. Lester’s daughters - Gloria Sichmeller and Debra Mills (together, Petitioners) - subsequently brought this action against Butch seeking to recover the account balance and exemplary damages, asserting that by signing Lester’s name Butch had engaged in impermissible self-dealing. The circuit court ruled in favor of Butch, concluding that Butch had acted as “a mere instrument or [amanuensis]” at Lester’s request. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not clearly err in finding that Butch was not exercising his power of attorney when he signed Lester’s name but, rather, was acting as an amanuensis. View "In re Estate of Bronson" on Justia Law

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Bonnie Jean Pease executed a holographic will approximately seven months before her death. The will disinherited Pease’s mother, sister, and brother but not her brother Douglas Hubert. At issue before the circuit court was whether Pease intended to devise anything to Lisa and Lynn Schock, who were named in the will as the executors of Pease’s estate and to whom Pease gave “all [her] belongings…” contingent on them giving a share to Hubert, to a search for a home for her bird, and to fund litigation against the State. The circuit court ruled that after the Schocks set aside the requested funds, they were to distribute the entire residual estate to Hubert. The Schocks appealed, arguing that the gifting language of the will gave them a conditional gift. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the will gave Pease’s property to Schocks subject to the stated convictions. View "In re Estate of Hubert" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Mother executed a power of attorney that appointed her son (Son) as her attorney-in-fact. Mother held a life estate in several properties to which her daughters (Daughters) held remainder interests. Prior to Mother’s death in 2013, Son had been leasing from Mother the land in which Daughters held remainder interests. In 2014, Daughters initiated this suit alleging that Son had breached his farmland lease by failing to pay rent on the property in which they received their remainder interests. The Estate also brought suit alleging that Son breached the fiduciary duties he owed to Mother. Prior to trial, the court granted Plaintiffs’ motion to exclude extrinsic evidence of Mother’s intent with regards to the power of attorney. After a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Daughters on the breach of contract claim and in favor of the Estate on the breach of fiduciary duty claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred when it prevented Son from introducing relevant evidence related to, inter alia, the circumstances surrounding Mother’s arrangement of leasing her land to her family without charging rent. Remanded for a new trial. View "Hein v. Zoss" on Justia Law

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Maurice Ricard and his wife, Ella “Bernadette” Ricard, had five girls and one boy. Maurice had a will creating the Maurice M. Ricard Family Trust. The Trust provided that real property owned by Maurice would be held by the Trust for the use and benefit of Bernadette during her lifetime and that, upon the death of Bernadette, the Trust would terminate and the girls would receive the assets. Maurice died in 2002, after which the sisters sold their respective interests in the Trust to their brother. In 2010, after Bernadette died, the Trust terminated. The sisters subsequently sought to rescind their agreements and repurchase their respective interests. The trial court denied relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the agreements were enforceable, and the sisters should not be allowed to rescind their agreements. View "In re Ricard Family Trust" on Justia Law

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Decedent named heirs in her will, but the heirs predeceased Decedent. Thus, Decedent’s estate became subject to the laws of intestate succession. The children of Decedent’s brother (collectively, Appellants) were designated as heirs of his estate. The circuit court then determined that the illegitimate daughter of Decedent’s brother (Yvette) was also an heir entitled to inherit equally from Decedent’s estate. In so holding, the circuit court concluded that S.C. Codified Laws 29A-2-114(c), which sets forth the methods under which an illegitimate child must establish paternity for purposes of intestate succession, was unconstitutional as applied to Yvette because it prohibited Yvette’s right to recover as an illegitimate child in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, although section 29A-2-114(c) creates a classification between legitimate and illegitimate children, it is constitutional as applied to Yvette under both the federal and state constitutions. View "In re Estate of Flaws" on Justia Law

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Decedent named heirs in her will, but the heirs predeceased Decedent. Thus, Decedent’s estate became subject to the laws of intestate succession. The children of Decedent’s brother (collectively, Appellants) were designated as heirs of his estate. The circuit court then determined that the illegitimate daughter of Decedent’s brother (Tamara) was also an heir entitled to inherit equally from Decedent’s estate. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err by rendering a judgment of heirship declaring Tamara a biological child of Decedent’s brother and an equal heir with Appellants. View "In re Estate of Flaws" on Justia Law

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After Charles Colombe died, Wesley Colombe filed a petition for informal probate and was appointed as personal representative of Charles’s Estate. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe (RST) filed a notice of creditor’s claim seeking to enforce a Rosebud Sioux Tribal Court order and judgment. Wesley filed a notice of disallowance of claim, asserting that the RST could not show that the order was entitled to comity. The circuit court granted comity to the tribal court order and judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err by granting comity to the tribal court order pursuant to S.D. Codified Laws 1-1-25. View "Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Colombe" on Justia Law

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Two members of a seven-member trust succession committee petitioned the circuit court for court supervision of the trust. Marvin M. Schwan owned and operated Schwan’s Sales Enterprises (a.k.a. The Schwan Food Company) until his death in 1993. In 1992, Marvin had created the Marvin M. Schwan Charitable Foundation. The Trust Instrument named seven beneficiaries: Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Lutheran College Conference, Inc., Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Bethany Lutheran College, Inc., International Lutheran Laymen’s League, and Wisconsin Lutheran Synod Kingdom Workers, Inc. After Marvin’s death, the Trustees redeemed all Marvin’s stock in the company and funded the Foundation with assets valuing nearly $1 billion. The parties did not dispute that certain investments made by the Trustees over several years caused approximately $600 million in losses to the Foundation. These losses reduced the value of the Foundation’s assets and reduced the Foundation’s distributions to the Beneficiaries. According to Committee members Paul and Mark Schwan, the Trustees did not inform the Committee until 2013 that the Foundation had experienced such significant losses from the investments. In June 2014, Mark and Paul petitioned the circuit court for instruction and supervision under SDCL 21-22-9. Paul and Mark asked the court to address whether the Committee had a duty under the Trust Instrument to request an accounting from the Trustees related to the Trustees’ investment losses, whether a majority vote of the Committee was required in order to request an accounting, whether the Committee members that were also Trustees had a conflict of interest, whether the Committee had a fiduciary duty to request an accounting, and whether Paul and Mark as individual Committee members could request an accounting. After a hearing, the circuit court dismissed the petition because it concluded that the two members did not meet the classifications of persons able to petition the circuit court for supervision. After its review of the trial court’s decision, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The Supreme Court found the trial court did not conclude that the Trustees, Attorney General, or Beneficiaries established good cause to the contrary related to the merits of Paul and Mark’s petition. The court did not hold a hearing on the merits of Paul and Mark’s petition, noting that it would not address arguments raised by the Trustees or Paul and Mark because it concluded that Paul and Mark did not meet any classification entitled to seek court supervision. The Supreme Court remanded to the trial court to "fix a time and place for a hearing thereon, . . . and upon such hearing, enter an order assuming supervision unless good cause to the contrary is shown." View "Schwan v. Burgdorf" on Justia Law

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Three individuals (the Conservators) were appointed guardians and conservators of Mary Novotny. The Conservators established the Mary D. Novotny Trust. Catherine Novotny was a beneficiary of the Trust, and the conservators were the trustees. When a dispute over the Trust arose between the trustees and Catherine, the circuit court granted reimbursement of expenses to the trustees. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the Conservators and awarded them reimbursement and future expenses. Catherine appealed. The Supreme Court remanded, holding that there was no evidence in the record that supported the basis for reimbursement under S.D. Codified Laws 55-3-13, and therefore, the circuit court erred in granting the Conservators’ motions for expenses. View "In re Guardianship of Novotny" on Justia Law