Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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Milton Turner died on July 25, 2018. On September 20, 2018, Mildred Williamson petitioned for letters of administration of Turner's estate in the probate court. In her petition, Williamson asserted that Turner had died intestate and that Williamson was Turner's only surviving heir. In 2019, Williamson, individually and in her capacity as the personal representative of Turner's estate, entered into a contract agreeing to sell to Matthew Drinkard and Jefferson Dolbare ("the purchasers") real property belonging to the estate for $880,650. The real-estate sales contract specified that the closing of the sale was to occur on or before May 31, 2019. On February 7, 2019, Williamson, individually and in her capacity as personal representative of Turner's estate, executed a deed conveying other real property that was part of Turner's estate to Marcus Hester. On February 13, 2019, Callway Sargent, alleging to be an heir of Turner's, filed a claim of heirship in Turner's estate. Sargent also moved for injunctive relief in which he acknowledged the February 7, 2019, deed, but asserted that Williamson had agreed to sell and had conveyed real property belonging to Turner's estate without the approval of the probate court, and requested that the probate court enjoin "Williamson from engaging in any further administration of [Turner's] estate until so ordered by [the probate court]." Williamson petitioned to have the case removed fro probate to the circuit court. From February 28, 2019, to March 18, 2019, a number of individuals came forward, all claiming to be Turner's heirs. Williamson moved to have the circuit court approve the pending property sales. Williamson and the purchasers did not close on the sale of the property that was the subject of their real-estate sales contract by May 31, 2019, as required by the contract. Some of the purported heirs petitioned the circuit court to stay or vacate the order approving the purchasers contact until matters regarding the heirs was resolved. Drinkard and Dolbare filed a motion to intervene in the proceedings regarding the administration of Turner's estate, but the circuit court denied the motion. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's denial of the purchasers' motion to intervene in the administration of Turner's estate. View "Drinkard, et al. v. Perry, et al." on Justia Law

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Gwendolyn Barnett appealed orders granting relief to Robert Lee Hull, Jr. Barnett and Hull are siblings and the sole legal heirs of their father, Robert Lee Hull, Sr. ("Robert"), who died testate. Pursuant to Robert's will, Hull and Barnett were listed as beneficiaries entitled to equal shares of his estate and Barnett was named personal representative of his estate. Hull filed a complaint against Barnett, arguing that in her role as "a partial caretaker of [Robert]" before his death, had exerted undue influence over Robert and had gained control of Robert's personal property and assets. According to Hull, in the absence of Barnett's purported misconduct, items that Barnett allegedly misappropriated would "have become part of [Robert's] estate." Barnett moved ti dismiss her brother's tort action, claiming that Hull's complaint in the tort action realleged claims purportedly "identical" to claims that Hull had previously asserted in the estate administration, which had been dismissed. The trial court granted Hull's motion in full and denied Barnett's motion to dismiss. On appeal, among other things, Barnett contended the trial court lacked jurisdiction over Hull's claims in the tort action, which she described as "central to the administration of the estate," while the estate administration remained separately pending. In her filings to the Supreme Court, Barnett characterized Hull's claims as "seek[ing] to identify property which he alleges should have been considered property of the Estate ... in the [first-filed] estate administration." To this, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed. Therefore, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over matters relating to the pending estate administration, and lacked jurisdiction to enter the the injunctive order or the subsequent show-cause order compelling Barnett's compliance with the injunctive order. The Supreme Court thus reversed all orders entered by the trial court in the tort action and remanded the matter for that court to enter an order dismissing Hull's complaint. View "Barnett v. Hull" on Justia Law

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Charles Edward Rainwater, Jean Rainwater Loggins, The Lem Harris Rainwater Family Trust, and the Rainwater Marital Trust appealed a circuit court's final judgment enforcing a settlement agreement in the litigation involving four siblings and the family trusts. They challenged three aspects of the judgment: its enforcement of the settlement agreement, its denial of a motion to dissolve a prior order enforcing the settlement agreement, and its denial of a motion to quash a garnishment. Because the court failed to hold an evidentiary hearing on enforcement of the settlement agreement, because the prior enforcement order was improper, and because any award on which the garnishment could have been based was being reversed, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the judgment as to all three aspects. View "The Lem Harris Rainwater Family Trust, et al. v. Rainwater" on Justia Law

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Gwendolyn Barnett and Robert Lee Hull, Jr. were siblings and the sole legal heirs of their father, Robert Lee Hull, Sr. ("Robert"), who died testate. Pursuant to Robert's will, Hull and Barnett were listed as beneficiaries entitled to equal shares of his estate and Barnett was named personal representative of his estate. In August 2019, Barnett obtained letters testamentary from the Probate Court. The administration of Robert's estate ("the estate administration") was later removed to the Circuit Court and assigned case no. CV-19-900322 following Hull's filing of a verified petition for removal. While the estate administration continued, Hull commenced the underlying action, a separate civil action against Barnett in the Circuit Court ("the tort action"), which was assigned case no. CV-20- 900192. Hull's complaint in the tort action alleged that Barnett, in her role as "a partial caretaker of [Robert]" before his death, had exerted undue influence over Robert and had gained control of Robert's personal property and assets. According to Hull, in the absence of Barnett's purported misconduct, items that Barnett allegedly misappropriated would "have become part of [Robert's] estate." Among other relief, Hull sought the imposition of a constructive trust "in an effort to avoid [Barnett's] further unjust enrichment." Barnett filed a motion seeking to dismiss the tort action. In her motion, Barnett asserted that Hull's complaint in the tort action realleged claims purportedly "identical" to claims that Hull had previously asserted in the estate administration, which had been dismissed. The trial court in the tort action entered an order granting Hull's motion in full. Barrett appealed, arguing the trial court lacked jurisdiction over Hull's claims. The Alabama Supreme Court concurred the trial court lacked jurisdiction over matters relating to the pending estate administration. It reversed all orders entered by the trial court in the tort action, and remanded for that court to enter an order dismissing Hull's complaint. View "Barnett v. Hull" on Justia Law

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Ball Healthcare Services, Inc. ("Ball Healthcare"), appealed a circuit court order denying its motion to compel arbitration in Ledell Flennory's wrongful-death suit against it. Because the Alabama Supreme Court determined Flennory did not meet his burden of rebutting Ball Healthcare's evidence that an enforceable arbitration agreement existed, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ball Healthcare Services, Inc. v. Flennory" on Justia Law

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The City of Warrior ("Warrior") and the Town of Trafford ("Trafford") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying their motions for a summary judgment in this tort action filed by plaintiff James Griffin, as the personal representative of the estate of James R. Olvey, and to enter a summary judgment in Warrior's and Trafford's favor on the basis of immunity. A Warrior police officer saw a cehicle operated by Donald Wright run a red light. Though the officer tried to stop Wright's vehicle, Wright sped away and the officer pursued. A Trafford officer joined in pursuit. When Wright entered the interstate to avoid the police chase, the officers stopped their pursuit. Approximately three quarters of a mile from where the officers ceased their pursuit, Wright's vehicle collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Olvey in a southbound lane. Olvey died as a result of the collision. When Wright was apprehended at the collision scene, a syringe was found hanging from his right arm. Subsequent testing revealed that, at the time of the collision, he was under the influence of both marijuana and cocaine. Wright was subsequently criminally indicted in connection with Olvey's death. Griffin, as the personal representative of Olvey's estate, later sued, among others, the two officers and their respective Town employers, alleging among other things, that Olvey died as the result of the allegedly unskillful, negligent, and/or wanton conduct of the officers in pursuing Wright while carrying out duties. As to each municipality, Griffin further alleged, based on a theory of respondeat superior, that they were vicariously liable for the purported wrongful conduct of the officers. After review, the Supreme Court determined Warrior and Trafford demonstrated a clear legal right to summary judgment in their favor on the basis of immunity. Accordingly, the trial court was directed to enter a summary judgment in favor of each on Griffin's claims against them. View "Ex parte City of Warrior and Town of Trafford." on Justia Law

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Susan Hoff ("Susan") and Eliot Hoff ("Eliot") were mother and son and the purported beneficiaries under a will executed by Susan Bibb Kidd ("Kidd"), Susan's mother. Probate was initiated in 2011. In 2020, Eliot filed a "Verified Petition for Removal Pursuant to Ala. Code 12-11-41," in which he asserted, among other things, that he was an heir of Kidd and that the estate could be better administered in the circuit court. Although Eliot's signature appeared on his petition, the signature was not notarized or signed under oath. While Eliot's petition was pending, Susan filed her own verified petition for removal that was sworn to under oath and notarized. The circuit court granted Susan's removal petition. Later that same day, however, the circuit court entered an order in which it vacated its previous order granting Susan's removal petition, directed Susan to serve notice of her removal petition to all interested parties, and indicated that it would set the matter for a hearing. After reconsideration was denied, Susan appealed, and the case was transferred to the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed when Susan failed to respond to a show-cause order. In 2021, Susan moved the circuit court seeking an order removing the administration of the estate. On October 18, 2021, the circuit court entered an order dismissing Susan's removal petition without prejudice, "[f]or failure to comply with th[e] Court's Orders of November 16, 2020, June 8, 2021 and September 1, 2021." On October 21, 2021, Susan and Eliot each filed a notice of appeal to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals; that court again transferred the appeals to the Supreme Court based on a lack of appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court ultimately found that because Eliot (eventually)filed a sworn removal petition that included a statement regarding his standing to bring the removal petition as an heir of Kidd and a statement that, in his opinion, the estate would be better administered in the circuit court, Eliot's removal petition satisfied the requirements of 12-11-41. Accordingly, the circuit court was required to enter an order of removal. The circuit court's order "denying" Eliot's removal petition was reversed. The Supreme Court did not reach Susan's appeal because its decision to grant Eliot's removal petition effectively awarded Susan the relief she sought. View "Hoff v. The Estate of Susan Bibb Kidd" on Justia Law

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Robert Louis Dill appealed a circuit court judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of Douglas Dill in Douglas's action contesting the purported will of Walter Dill, Jr. Walter and his wife Alva purchased a house across the street from Douglas (his son) and his wife Peggy, and Douglas' children. After Alva died, Douglas and Peggy assisted Walter with things such as preparing his meals and taking him to his appointments. Robert, Walter's brother, did not visit with Walter much before Alva's death because Alva did not care for Robert. However, after Alva died, Robert started visiting Walter and spending time with him on a frequent basis. Robert began taking Walter to certain places and appointments. By 2008, Walter did not really trust anyone but Robert and that Robert had "spread his wings over Walter." Peggy further stated that Robert had started turning Walter against Douglas. Walter had approximately $80,000 in a joint checking account with Douglas that was intended to help pay for Walter's future care. Douglas and Peggy discovered that Walter had written approximately $40,000 worth of checks from the joint account to Robert, one of which had been used to purchase Robert a vehicle. Thereafter, Douglas removed the $39,000 from the joint account and placed the money in an account solely in his name to prevent Walter from giving more money to Robert. Douglas and Robert separately petitioned an Alabama Probate Court seeking letters of guardianship and conservatorship over Walter. It appeared from the record that Walter once had a will that made Douglas the primary beneficiary of his estate. However, on December 11, 2013, Walter executed a new will ("the 2013 will") naming Robert as the executor and sole beneficiary of his estate. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of Douglas, finding the 2013 will had been prepared by an attorney who had previously represented Robert, and Robert accompanied Walter to the attorney's office on the day the will was executed. Approximately one month after the 2013 will was executed, the probate court entered an order finding that Walter lacked the mental capacity to handle his affairs and appointed a permanent conservator for Walter. "Based on the foregoing, we cannot say that the circuit court erred in entering a judgment on the jury's verdict in favor of Douglas in the will contest." View "Dill v. Dill" on Justia Law

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David Miles appealed a circuit court order denying his postjudgment motion seeking to alter, amend, or vacate a judgment appointing a guardian for Nadine Chalmers. The administration of the guardianship was purportedly removed to the circuit court from probate court. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the removal was not proper under section 26-2-2, Ala. Code 1975, and thus, the circuit court never acquired subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court therefore dismissed the appeal. View "Miles v. Helms" on Justia Law

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Ilka Porter and Lina Louise Porter, through her mother and next friend, Ilka Porter, appealed a probate court order that concluded Sean Porter was married to Alexis Campbell Porter at the time of his death, and appointing Alexis Campbell Porter as administratrix of his estate. The question presented by these appeals was one of first impression in Alabama: Whether the death of a party to a marriage, after a marriage document is executed but before the marriage document is recorded, invalidates the marriage for failure to comply with the registration requirements of section 22-9A-17, Ala. Code 1975. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded that it did not, affirming the probate court's order. View "Porter v. Estate of Porter" on Justia Law