Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia
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In these consolidated appeals from the circuit court relating to the administration of the estate of Shirley Martin and of the trusts established by Carl Martin, Sr. and Shirley Martin the Court of Appeals reversed the order of the circuit court granting partial summary judgment in favor of Sherree Martin approving the payment of certain federal estate taxes from the Carl Martin Trust, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the order in Case No. 21-0757 and affirmed the order in Case No. 22-0417, holding (1) the circuit court erred in concluding in Case No. 21-0757 that a preliminary injunction was warranted and that Sherree Martin should have been removed from her former fiduciary roles; and (2) the circuit court erred in concluding in Case No. 22-0417 regarding the payment of federal estate taxes. View "Martin v. Martin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition preventing the Honorable Christopher McCarthy, Judge of the Circuit Court of Harrison County, from enforcing an order granting Plaintiffs' motion to compel, holding that the circuit court erred by failing to determine the applicability of the attorney-client privilege to the information sought by Plaintiffs.The order granting Plaintiffs' motion to compel required an attorney employed by Defendant to appear at a deposition and respond to questions that Defendant claimed were subject to the attorney-client privilege and/or the work product doctrine. The Supreme Court granted the requested writ of prohibition, holding that determining the applicability of the attorney-client privilege to the information sought by Plaintiffs during the deposition was a required first step in analyzing whether to grant Plaintiffs' motion to compel. View "State ex rel. Antero Resources Corp. v. Honorable McCarthy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioner's appeal from an order entered by the Marion County Commission declaring the holographic will of Oras Dye to be void and rescinding Petitioner's appointment as the executor of the Estate of Oras Dye, holding that the circuit court erred.On appeal, Petitioner argued that the fiduciary supervisor and the county commission lacked statutory authority investigate the validity of the will and unilaterally to declare it void after the will had been admitted to probate. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) the judiciary supervisor lacked authority to investigate the validity of the will, which had already been admitted to probate; and (2) the county commission lacked authority to revoke the will's prior admission to probate. View "Dye v. County Commission of Marion County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the judgment of the circuit court in a conversion case granting motions to dismiss on the ground that all pleadings filed on behalf of the Estate of A. Rafael Gomez by a non-attorney executor and all arguments made by him in court proceedings constituted the unlawful practice of law, and (2) found that the appeal in a companion case, a will contest, was improvidently granted.The Estate sought reversal of a circuit court dismissing its lawsuit on the ground that Mark Gomez, as a non-attorney executor, was not authorized to file pleadings or otherwise represent the Estate in judicial proceedings. Mark, together with his brothers, also filed a will contest in which Mark filed pleadings and argued on both his own behalf and on behalf of the Estate. The Supreme Court held (1) as to the conversion case, Mark, a non-attorney executor, was engaged in the unlawful practice of law, and therefore, the circuit court properly dismissed the case; and (2) as to the will contest, the court did not make any rulings that conclusively determined any issue in the case, and therefore, the appeal was improvidently granted. View "Gomez v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court that affirmed an order of the Randolph County Commission affirming the findings of its special fiduciary commissioner as to Joann Fussell's claims against the Estate of Roger G. Fussell and her objections to the estate appraisement, holding that the circuit court did not err.Specifically, the Court held that the circuit court correctly found (1) two bank notes obtained by Joann were just debts of the Estate; (2) Joann was not a creditor beneficiary of a life insurance policy on the life of Roger; and (3) Joann's fair market value written appraisals in West Virginia and Georgia were properly considered by the special fiduciary commissioner to establish fair market value. View "Estate of Fussell v. Fussell" on Justia Law

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In this dispute over the property division in a will, the Supreme Court granted the writ of prohibition sought by Petitioner seeking relief from the circuit court’s grant of Respondents’ motion to sell certain property, holding that the implication of possible sale relating to a separate piece of real property is insufficient evidence of an intent to sell all other real property such that it bypasses the findings required by W. Va. Code 44-8-1 and 37-4-3 to sell a specific devise subject to a partition suit.The Testator’s will devised a family farm and other property to her three children, Petitioner and Respondents. Petitioner sought to have the family farm partitioned in kind and argued that it was a specific devise. Co-executors of the estate sought a court order to sell the family farm. The circuit court ruled in favor of the co-executors, concluding that the Testator showed approval of the sale of the family farm even though it had been separately and specifically devised. The Supreme Court granted this writ of prohibition, holding that the circuit court erred in permitting sale of the family farm without first determining whether the property was amenable to partition in kind consistent with the directives of sections 44-8-1 and 37-4-3. View "Presnell v. Presnell" on Justia Law

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The biological child of a deceased parent whose parental rights were either voluntarily relinquished or involuntarily terminated prior to the parent’s death does not meet the statutory definition of a descendant of the parent and therefore does not qualify to inherit under the descent and distribution provisions of the West Virginia Code when the parent dies intestate.Plaintiff appealed the circuit court’s award of summary judgment to Defendants. The award was based upon the circuit court’s conclusion that a child may not inherit from a parent who died intestate after his parental rights to that child were legally terminated. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s determination that Plaintiff may not inherit from her father’s intestate estate because a parent whose parental rights have been terminated does not meet the definition of a “parent” set out in W. Va. Code 42-1-1. View "Hall v. Hall" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s summary judgment determination that an option agreement was supported by consideration and that the option price of $50,000 would be used in calculating the decedent’s wife’s elective share.After the decedent died without a will, a dispute arose between the decedent’s son and the decedent’s wife of more than thirty years about the disposition of the decedent’s one-half interest in the partnership he formed with his son. The son argued that he had a valid contractual option to purchase the decedent’s entire one-half interest in the partnership for $50,000 according to an option agreement executed between the father and son. The wife argued that her elective share should be based upon the full value of the partnership, which she valued at approximately $1 million. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) the option agreement was testamentary in nature, executed in the guise of a partnership agreement; (2) the option agreement contradicted the public policies and principles of the elective share statutory scheme and was unenforceable against the wife for the purposes of determining her elective share; and (3) the wife was entitled to her elective share of the decedent’s augmented estate, which included the value of the decedent’s undivided one-half interest in the partnership. View "Young v. Young" on Justia Law

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Lawrence Belt had the right to withdraw funds from joint bank accounts owned by Lawrence and Lila Belt during their marriage by virtue of W.Va. Code 31A-4-33.After Lawrence withdrew funds from the joint bank accounts, both he and Lila died. Lawrence’s estate, through his executrix (Petitioner), and Lila’s estate, through her executor (Respondent) disputed the ownership of the funds Lawrence withdrew from the joint accounts. The circuit court split the funds in half to prevent the perceived unjust enrichment of Lawrence’s estate. The Supreme Court reversed and entered judgment in favor of Petitioner, holding that the withdrawals from the joint accounts by both Lawrence during the marriage were proper under section 31A-4-33 pertaining to joint bank accounts with the right of survivorship, an therefore, Lawrence was entitled to the balance of the funds left in the joint accounts by way of survivorship. View "Wakim v. Pavlic" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the decedent filed a complaint alleging violations of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act and other causes of action against Respondent, Professional Bureau of Collections of Maryland, Inc. After the decedent died in 2014, Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the decedent’s claims under the Act did not survive his death pursuant to W. Va. Code 55-7-8a(a) because the claims were personal to the consumer who owed the debt and that the decedent’s estate did not have standing to bring a claim under the Act because an estate is not a natural person under the Act. Petitioner, the executrix of the estate of the decedent, moved to substitute the decedent’s estate as plaintiff. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Respondent, concluding that the decedent’s estate lacked standing to maintain a private right of action as a “consumer” within the meaning of the Act. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a claim brought under W. Va. Code 46A-2-127(c) of the Act is not sufficiently analogous to a claim for fraud so that the claim survives the death of the consumer pursuant to section 55-7-8a(a). View "Horton v. Professional Bureau of Collections of Maryland" on Justia Law