Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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Regina Norwood and Rita Patelliro appealed a probate court order. Josephine Mary Damico ("the testator") executed a will, devising the entirety of her estate to her sister, Sarah Frances Cox. The testator expressly disinherited all of her other heirs. When the testator died in 2017, Elise Barclay filed a petition for probate of the will and a petition for letters testamentary. Shortly thereafter, Norwood and Patelliro, the testator's nieces, filed a "motion for letters of instruction" in which they asserted that the sister had predeceased the testator, they were the sister's two surviving children, and that, as the sister's surviving children, they were entitled to receive the testator's estate in place of the sister pursuant to the antilapse statute. The personal representative filed a response in which she asserted that the testator's estate should pass through intestacy. The Alabama Supreme Court found that although the testator expressly disinherited all of her heirs with the exception of the sister, her will was executed while the sister was living. The testator could foresee that, if she devised the entirety of her estate to her sister, the sister could thereafter devise it, upon her death, to her own issue, the nieces. "Moreover, the testator could foresee that, if her sister predeceased her, as happened, the nieces would inherit the sister's share pursuant to the antilapse statute. If the testator wanted to prevent the nieces from inheriting her estate, she could have included language in her will preventing the application of the antilapse statute. The testator gave no indication in her will that the antilapse statute should not apply." Thus, the Court determined the antilapse statute applied in this case and the nieces were entitled to take the sister's share of the testator's estate. View "Norwood v. Barclay" on Justia Law

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Donald Croom Beatty, Jr., appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing an action involving the estate of his mother, Mary Alice Gatlin Beatty. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Donald's notice of appeal was untimely filed; therefore it did not invoke the Supreme Court's jurisdiction to consider the issues he raised on appeal. Accordingly, the Court dismissed his appeal. View "Beatty v. Carmichael" on Justia Law

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This case was an estate-administration case that was only partially before the Alabama Supreme Court. Perry Eugene Cox, Jr. ("Cox"), appealed a judgment made final by the Shelby Circuit Court ("the trial court") under Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. Specifically, the trial court held that Cox's counterclaim against his sisters, Jennie Jo Cox Parrish, Debra Cox McCurdy, and Shirley Cox Wise, as coexecutors of the estate of their father, Perry Eugene Cox, Sr., was time-barred by Alabama's nonclaims statute, 43-2-350, Ala. Code 1975. The trial court dismissed Cox's counterclaim and certified its judgment as final and appealable, and Cox appealed. Because the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying its dismissal of Cox's counterclaim under Rule 54(b), the Supreme Court determined no final judgment existed and the Court lacked jurisdiction to decide this appeal. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed. View "Cox, Jr. v. Parrish" on Justia Law

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This case contested the validity of a property deed that was executed by Gayron Brooks in the weeks before her death from lung cancer. The deed conveyed her house in Boaz to her husband of 18 years, David. Following Gayron's death, her adult children, Teresa Elizabeth Mitchell and Steve E. Allen, as personal representatives of Gayron's estate, sued David alleging, among other things, that David held a dominant position over Gayron and that he had unduly influenced her to sign the deed. After a four-day nonjury trial, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of David. This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error in the circuit court's judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Mitchell v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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Steven Christopher Jones ("Chris Jones") appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Tammy Brewster and Jeffrey Eugene Brewster in a will contest filed by Jones concerning the will of his father, Mike Jones. Chris Jones filed his will contest in the probate court because the probate court had not admitted the will to probate and had not appointed a personal representative of Mike Jones's estate. Contemporaneously with the will-contest complaint, Chris Jones filed a motion to transfer the will contest to the circuit court. Thus, he sought to invoke the circuit court's jurisdiction pursuant to section 43-8-198, Ala. Code 1975. The probate court certified the probate-court record to the circuit court, the circuit-court clerk docketed the case, and the circuit court held a trial. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the record, however, was devoid of a transfer order from the probate court, thereby depriving the circuit court subject-matter jurisdiction. Because the probate court did not enter a transfer order in this case, "the procedural requirements of 43-8-198 were not satisfied, and, as a result, the circuit court never obtained jurisdiction over the will contest." Therefore, the judgment of the circuit court was void and would not support Chris Jones's appeal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Jones v. Brewster" on Justia Law

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Clifford Wright ("Wright"), the administrator of the estate of Mary Evelyn Wright ("Mary") appealed a summary judgment entered in favor of Dawn Reid, Phyllis Harris, and Tuwanda Worrills (collectively referred to as "the nurses"), who, during all relevant times, were employed by the Cleburne County Hospital Board, Inc., d/b/a Cleburne County Nursing Home ("the Hospital Board"). Mary complained she suffered injuries from a fall while a resident of a nursing home operated by the Hospital Board. Mary allegedly died from her injuries the day after her complaint was filed. Wright was appointed the administrator of Mary's estate and was substituted as the plaintiff. As amended, Wright's complaint asserted claims against the nurses, the Hospital Board, and various fictitiously named parties under the Alabama Medical Liability Act. Wright's claim against the Hospital Board included 13 separate allegations of negligence. Wright's claims against each of the nurses included 13 separate allegations of negligence. Additionally, Wright alleged that the Hospital Board was vicariously liable for the actions of its agents, specifically, the actions of the nurses. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying the summary judgment in favor of the nurses as a final judgment pursuant to Rule 54(b). Accordingly, the trial court's Rule 54(b) certification was invalid; this appeal was from a nonfinal judgment; and the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Wright v. Harris, et al." on Justia Law

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Mary Chmielewski, as personal representative of the estate of Yvonne Speer Hoover, deceased; Grace Ellis; and Roger Stone petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Baldwin Circuit Court to vacate an order purporting to set aside its earlier dismissal of a will contest. Hoover executed a will in May 2017. Hoover's will designated Tere Mills as a beneficiary of Hoover's estate. A codicil to Hoover's will was executed shortly before Hoover died in July 2017. The codicil eliminated Mills as a beneficiary of Hoover's estate and added Ellis and Stone as beneficiaries. After Hoover died, her will, along with the codicil, was admitted to probate, and letters testamentary were issued to Chmielewski. Thereafter, pursuant to section 43-8-199, Ala. Code 1975, Mills filed a petition in the circuit court contesting the validity of Hoover's will, as amended by the codicil. It was alleged that the circuit court entered final orders disposing of the action and, no postjudgment motion having been filed within 30 days, lost jurisdiction over the matter. Thereafter, the circuit court, allegedly without jurisdiction, entered an order purporting to grant a postjudgment motion and to reinstate the proceedings. Because the Supreme Court concluded that the proceedings were indeed dismissed, it granted the petition and directed the circuit court to set aside its order purporting to vacate the dismissal. View "Ex parte Chmielewski" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, Randolph Clay Cooper ("Clay") appealed two summary judgments entered in favor of his siblings, Garland Terrance Cooper ("Terry") and Rebecca Cooper Bonner ("Becky"). Case no. 1170270 concerned a petition for letters of administration for the estate of Carol Evans Cooper ("Mrs. Cooper"), who was their mother. Case no. 1170271 concerned Clay's petition to distribute any assets remaining in a trust created by the will of their father, Nolan P. Cooper ("Mr. Cooper"). After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined summary judgment was appropriate in Case no. 1170270, but that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in 1170271: in the 2012 litigation regarding the administration of his mother’s estate, Clay attempted to sue Becky in her capacity as "administratrix of the will and/or estate of Carol Evans Cooper," among other capacities. However, that attempt was ineffective because no administration of Mrs. Cooper's estate had yet been commenced and no estate administrator was appointed until after the 2012 litigation had concluded on October 1, 2014. The parties in the two cases were not the same or substantially identical (letters of administration had been previously granted to Harry D’Olive, Jr.), and the circuit court erred by entering a summary judgment in favor of Becky and Terry based on their argument that the administration of Mrs. Cooper's estate was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. View "Cooper v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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Evangela Skelton ("Angel"), as personal representative of the estate of Brian Lee Skelton, Sr. ("the estate"), requested the Alabama Supreme Court issue a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court (1) to vacate its order denying her motion to dismiss an action filed in the circuit court by Joshua Council ("Joshua") and (2) to enter an order dismissing Joshua's action on the ground of abatement. Frederick Skelton, Jr. ("Frederick Jr."), died on June 7, 1979. Frederick Jr. was survived by his wife, Rheta Skelton ("Rheta"), and four children: Brian Lee Skelton, Sr. ("Brian Lee"), Frederick Tildon Skelton III ("Frederick III"), Loretta Skelton ("Loree"), and Cindy Skelton ("Cindy"). The original trustee of the trust was Rheta. The trust named Frederick III as successor trustee to Rheta and Brian Lee as successor trustee to Frederick III. The trust named no successor trustee to Brian Lee. Rheta died on December 13, 2015. Rheta was predeceased by Frederick III, who died on January 1, 2014. Thus, Brian Lee became the successor trustee of the trust following Rheta's death. However, Brian Lee died on July 2, 2016, before dividing the trust property into shares and distributing those shares pursuant to the terms of the trust and before making a final settlement of the trust. Brian Lee was survived by his wife, Angel, by two adult children, Brian Lee Skelton, Jr. ("Brian Jr."), and Taylor Skelton Madsen ("Taylor"), and by a minor child, Olivia Jade Skelton ("Olivia"). Brian Lee's adult children sought appointment such that the Family Trust shares could be distributed. Joshua, as beneficiary, petitioned for termination, alleging that the trust should have terminated on Rheta's death, and asked the circuit court to distribute the trust assets. Angel moved to dismiss, which was ultimately denied. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court erred in denying Angel's motion, reversed the Circuit court and directed it to enter an order dismissing Joshua's action. View "Ex parte Evangela Skelton, as the personal representative of the Estate of Brian Lee Skelton, Sr., deceased." on Justia Law

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Kimberly Blalock appealed a circuit court order holding Crimson Sutphin was the rightful beneficiary of a policy insuring the life of Loyd Sutphin, Jr. ("Loyd"), issued by New York Life Insurance Company. Loyd took out a $250,000 individual whole life-insurance policy, naming his daughter, Sutphin, as the sole beneficiary. In October 2012, Loyd married Blalock, and they lived together at his home in Henegar. Soon after, in December 2012, Loyd submitted a change-of-beneficiary-designation form to New York Life, designating Blalock and Sutphin each as a 50% beneficiary under the policy. A few years later, in February 2016, Loyd and Blalock divorced; however, the life-insurance policy was not addressed in the divorce judgment, and Loyd never changed the beneficiary designation following the divorce. Loyd died later that year on December 23, 2016. In April 2017, Sutphin filed a action seeking a judgment declaring that she was the rightful beneficiary of the entire proceeds of the New York Life policy because, she asserted, pursuant to section 30-4-17, Ala. Code 1975, Blalock's beneficiary designation had been revoked upon her divorce from Loyd. Blalock moved to dismiss the action, arguing that Tennessee, not Alabama, law should govern and, thus, that the DeKalb Circuit Court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case. The circuit court denied the motion to dismiss; Blalock filed a motion to reconsider the denial. At an evidentiary hearing on her motion to reconsider, Blalock again argued that the DeKalb Circuit Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction but also asserted that the application of 30-4-17 in this instance violated section 22 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901; the circuit court denied Blalock's motion to reconsider. The case proceeded to a bench trial, at which Blalock argued that she and Loyd had established a common-law marriage after their divorce and before his death, thereby reviving her beneficiary designation under the policy. The circuit court heard testimony from numerous witnesses on this issue, most of whom testified on Blalock's behalf. In 2018, the circuit court issued a final order in the case, holding that Sutphin was the rightful beneficiary under the policy because Blalock's beneficiary designation had been revoked by virtue of 30-4-17 and no common-law marriage existed to revive that designation before Loyd's death. Finding that Blalock's beneficiary designation was revoked under 30-4-17 by virtue of her divorce, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Blalock v. Sutphin" on Justia Law