Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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This case involved a dispute among the children of decedent Dorothy Rita Beam concerning the distribution of her estate. Decedent’s daughter, Dorothy Marian Meadows (“Marian”), filed a petition to probate Decedent’s 2014 will and codicil, and Marian’s siblings, John Beam, Jr., Margaret Beam, and Jayne Heggen (collectively, “Caveators”), filed a caveat alleging that Decedent lacked testamentary capacity to execute the will and codicil. After a trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Caveators, finding that Decedent lacked testamentary capacity and awarding attorney’s fees to Caveators. Marian appealed, arguing, among other things, the evidence did not support a finding that Decedent lacked testamentary capacity. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed and reversed. View "Meadows v. Beam" on Justia Law

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Gregory and Adam Piccione (“the Picciones”), grandchildren of testator Virginia Arp (“Virginia”) and children of Donna Piccione (“Donna”), appealed the superior court’s denial of their motion for summary judgment in this action against their three uncles, Sam and Dwayne Arp, individually and in their capacities as executors of Virginia’s estate, and David Arp. The Picciones contended they had a combined one-fourth interest in the property that comprised Virginia’s estate and sued in superior court, asserting actions for conversion, fraud, and trespass regarding those property interests, and moved for summary judgement. The trial court denied their motion, concluding that Virginia’s use of the words “PER CAPITA” in the phrase: “I give, bequeath and devise unto my children, Sam Arp, Donna Piccione, David Arp and Dwayne Arp, all of the property that I may own at the time of my death, both real and personal, of every kind and description and wherever located, PER CAPITA” was a “limitation” under the anti-lapse statute, OCGA § 53-4-64 (a); the anti-lapse provisions of the statute therefore did not apply to the gifts to Virginia’s children; as Donna predeceased Virginia, the testamentary gift to Donna lapsed; and thus, the Picciones had no property interest upon which to base their claims. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Piccione v. Arp" on Justia Law

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This case involves the revocation of a will due to after-born children of the testator. The probate court determined the will did not contemplate the birth of future children, and therefore their birth revoked the will. The named beneficiary appeals. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hobbs v. Winfield" on Justia Law

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Daughter Janay Milbourne (“Janay”) filed a caveat asserting that Edison Milbourne’s January 2013 Will was invalid because it had been procured by undue influence by sister and guardian Vashti Milbourne (“Vashti”); because it had been revoked by Edison; because it had been improperly executed; and because Edison lacked testamentary capacity to make the will in the first place. The Probate Court rejected all of these contentions on summary judgment motions except the first; the court found that a question of fact remained on the issue of undue influence. Vashti disagreed with that decision, and the Supreme Court granted her application for an interlocutory appeal. Janay, meanwhile, filed a cross appeal of the probate court’s grant of summary judgment to Vashti on the issue of revocation. Because the probate court was correct that an issue of fact remains on undue influence, and in its conclusion that Edison did not revoke his January 2013 will, the Supreme Court affirmed both judgments. View "Milbourne v. Milbourne" on Justia Law

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Bernard Norton, by and through Kim Norton, brought a wrongful death action against a number of defendants who were affiliated with a nursing home in which his wife, Lola Norton, died. Bernard claimed that negligent treatment caused Lola’s death. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration of all claims in accordance with an agreement entered into by Lola at the time she was admitted to the nursing home. The trial court granted the motion to stay and compel arbitration, and Bernard appealed, contending that, as a wrongful death beneficiary, he could not be bound to Lola’s arbitration agreement. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and found that Lola’s beneficiaries were not required to arbitrate their wrongful death claims against the defendants. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether an arbitration agreement governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) and entered into by a decedent and/or her power of attorney, which bound the decedent and her estate to arbitration, was also enforceable against the decedent’s beneficiaries in a wrongful death action. The Court found that such an arbitration agreement did bind the decedent’s beneficiaries with respect to their wrongful death claims, and, accordingly, reversed the Court of Appeals. View "United Health Services of Georgia, Inc. v. Norton" on Justia Law

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Joseph Schmidt was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and in 1973, the Veterans Administration paid him disability benefits. Three years later, the VA appointed Dale Groenenboom as his guardian and conservator. In 1997, Schmidt moved into a personal care home, which was owned and operated by Charles and Jerry Reeves. In 2010, Schmidt was diagnosed with kidney cancer. At that time, Groenenboom still served as his guardian and conservator, and Schmidt still lived in the Reeveses’ personal care home. Schmidt was hospitalized in July 2010, and he made a will, which named Groenenboom as the executor. In that will, Schmidt left nothing to his twin sister, Judith Webb, instead leaving all of his estate to Groenenboom and the Reeveses. Schmidt died in October 2013, and Groenenboom filed a petition to probate the will in solemn form. Webb filed a caveat. The probate court denied the caveat and admitted the will to probate, and Webb appealed, arguing Schmidt lacked testamentary capacity as a matter of law when he made the July 2010 will. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Schmidt had enough knowledge about the nature and extent of his estate to sustain a finding that he had a decided and rational desire as to the disposition of his property. View "Webb v. Reeves" on Justia Law

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At the heart of this case was a dispute among family members over the estate of Edwin Burton Anderson, Jr. (“Burt”): his widow, Donna Lee Morris Anderson and Robert Knox, Jr., in his capacity as the administrator of Burt’s estate; and appellants, Burt’s three children from his first marriage, Charles Anderson, Arthur Anderson, and Kimberly Ware Anderson. At the time of his death, Burt owned a substantial amount of real property, including land which had been bequeathed to him by his father, Edwin Burton Anderson, Sr. (“Edwin”), in a 1962 will. After Burt’s death, Donna and Knox jointly filed an action seeking, in pertinent part: (1) to set aside certain deeds made in June 2013; and (2) construction of Edwin’s 1962 will, arguing that "Item Six" devised the land described therein in fee simple to Burt, thereby placing that property in Burt’s estate upon his death. The trial court granted Donna's motion for partial summary judgment on her claim to set aside the June 2013 deeds, concluding that Charles (who once held power of attorney over the property at issue) had no legal right to execute the deeds. With regard to Edwin’s will, the trial court ruled that Item Six bequeathed a life estate in the described property to Burt and at his death, the fee to Burt’s children. Burt’s children appealed (case number S16A1052) challenging the trial court’s order to the extent it granted partial summary judgment to Donna, and set aside the June 2013 deeds. In a cross-appeal (case number S16X1053), Donna argued the trial court erred by holding that Item Six of Edwin’s will granted Burt a life estate. The Supreme Court reversed that part of the trial court’s order challenged in S16A1052 and affirmed that part the trial court’s order challenged in S16X1053. View "Anderson v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Tamara Williford filed a “Petition for Equitable Relief” against Mary Ann Brown, alleging that Brown’s husband, Tommy, was Williford’s biological father; that Tommy Brown was in poor physical health and could not leave home but was in good mental condition and can make decisions for himself; that Williford and Tommy have a good relationship, used to talk on the telephone regularly, and until recently saw each other in person; and that Tommy was prevented from doing so by Mrs. Brown. The petition requested an order requiring Mrs. Brown to allow Williford unimpeded personal access to Tommy, or appointing a guardian ad litem for Tommy. Mrs. Brown filed an answer denying: that Williford was Mr. Brown’s biological daughter, that he was in poor health, that he wished to have contact with Williford, and that Mrs. Brown has interfered in any way with Williford’s access to Mr. Brown. The trial court held that there was no such relief as Williford requested. The Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the trial court's dismissal of her petition. View "Williford v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Following the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to James Phillips and Larry Wyman Phillips in their capacity as co-executors of the estate of Opal Anderson Phillips (Opal), Mary Elizabeth Oravec appealed, arguing the trial court erred in its determination that Opal’s 2007 will should have been admitted to probate. Specifically, Oravec argued that the 2007 will violated the terms of a previous joint will that contractually could not be revoked by Opal. In 1997, Opal and her husband George executed a single will that recited only that it was a "joint" will. George died in 1998, and in 2004, Opal drafted a new will, expressly revoking the 1997 joint will. The attorney who drafted the 2004 will testified that Opal disinherited Oravec because she had loaned Oravec a significant amount of money during life, Oravec had not repaid the loans, and that Opal believed Oravec "had already received enough." Opal died in February 2014, and James and Larry offered the 2007 will for probate. Oravec filed a caveat, contending that: (1) the 1997 joint will was intended to be both joint and contractually binding; (2) as a result, Opal could not revoke the 1997 joint will after she benefitted from its probate; and (3) because of this fact, the 2007 will was invalid. The operative question in this case was whether Opal had any contractual obligation to George arising from the 1997 will that prevented her from revoking that will and changing her testamentary plan following George’s death. The Supreme Court found no evidence of any such obligation, and affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment. View "Oravec v, Phillips" on Justia Law

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Caveators James Ayers, Nancy Davis, and Debra Hilty, siblings of testator Donald Ayers (“Donald”), appealed a superior court judgment, entered after a jury verdict, upholding Donald’s last will and testament that left the entirety of his estate to Donald’s remaining sibling, Carol Ayers (“Carol”). Donald was divorced with no children, and his four siblings were his closest relatives, but discord between the siblings had developed during the last years of the life of their mother. Donald had no will prior to April 2009. After a discussion about Donald’s wishes for his property after his death, Carol, using a form she found on the internet, prepared a will for Donald which she gave him to review; it left the entirety of his estate to Carol and named her as executor, and in the event she predeceased him, named Carol’s daughter, Tammy Cook, as beneficiary and executor. That same day, with Carol as a passenger, Donald drove to the courthouse where two deputy clerks witnessed the will’s execution. After being informed that the will did not need to be filed with the court, Donald and Carol left, taking the will with them. Donald died on January 17, 2012. Carol filed the will for probate, and Caveators asserted that at the time of the will’s execution, Donald was laboring under the exercise of undue influence by Carol and Tammy. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ayers v. Cook" on Justia Law