Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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Minnie Fountain, as guardian for her adult nephew, Leroy Wiggins, filed claims against Wiggins’s skilled nursing facility and its management: CL SNF, LLC d/b/a Clinch Healthcare Center (“CHC”); RWC Healthcare, LLC; PWW Healthcare, LLC; and Beacon Health Management, LLC (collectively, “Clinch”), after Wiggins allegedly was assaulted while in their care. Clinch moved to compel arbitration of the claims, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling based on a determination that neither the letters of guardianship issued by the probate court nor the provisions of the Georgia Code pertaining to guardians of adult wards gave Fountain the authority to enter into a pre-dispute arbitration agreement on Wiggins’s behalf. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Clinch’s petition for certiorari and reversed the Court of Appeals in CL SNF, LLC v. Fountain, 843 SE2d 605 (2020), because it concluded that the Guardianship Code granted a guardian authority to enter into a binding pre-dispute arbitration agreement where the exercise of such power was reasonably necessary to provide adequately for the ward’s support, care, health, and welfare. View "CL SNF, LLC et al. v. Fountain" on Justia Law

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When Lillie Mae Bedford died in 1997, she left a residential property in Marietta, Georgia by testamentary devise to her daughter, Jennifer Hood. Although the Bedford estate never made and delivered a deed to Hood to perfect a conveyance of legal title, Hood lived on the property for some time after the death of her mother, and she paid the taxes associated with it. But beginning in 2009, the taxes on the property were unpaid, and in 2013, the property was sold to Crippen & Lawrence Investment Co., Inc. at a tax sale. More than 12 months later, Crippen took steps to foreclose the statutory right of redemption, and Crippen gave Hood notice of foreclosure. Once the redemption period expired, Crippen petitioned for quiet title. Hood did not respond to the petition, but the Bedford estate appeared and moved to dismiss, asserting the estate was entitled to notice of the foreclosure, and had not been served with such notice. Crippen responded that the estate was not entitled to notice because the executor by his conduct had assented to the devise of the property, which by operation of law passed title to Hood notwithstanding that the estate had made and delivered no deed, and that the estate, therefore, no longer had any interest in the property. A special master of the trial court determined the estate was entitled to notice and dismissed the quiet title petition. Crippen appealed, but the Court of Appeals affirmed. Upon further appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: "assent may be presumed from legatee’s possession of the property. ... Although Crippen would not have standing to move a probate court to prospectively compel the executor of the Bedford estate to give assent that has been so far withheld, Crippen has standing in this quiet title proceeding to establish that the executor previously assented to the devise to Hood under the old Probate Code." View "Crippen & Lawrence Investment Co., Inc. v. A Tract of Land Being Known as 444 Lemon Street, et. al." on Justia Law

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In 2016, Priscilla Savoy, individually and as executor of her mother’s estate, filed suit against her sisters Eleanor Bowen and Margaret Innocenti (collectively “defendants”) contending that they colluded to appropriate funds from their mother’s estate for their own use. The defendants were served with the summons and complaint on June 20 and 22, 2016. On July 20, 2016, the defendants filed in the trial court a motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, which was supported by a sworn affidavit executed by Bowen denying the factual allegations raised in the complaint. When the defendants did not answer the complaint within 30 days of service, as required by OCGA § 9-11-12 (a), the case “automatically [became] in default,” OCGA 9-11-55 (a). The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to address the following question: To show a proper case for opening default under OCGA 9-11-55 (b), must the defendant provide a reasonable explanation for the failure to file a timely answer? The Court answered that question in the negative and reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals which held to the contrary. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Bowen v. Savoy" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from the Forsyth County, Georgia Probate Court’s finding that Emanuel Gladstone breached his fiduciary duty as conservator for his incapacitated wife, Jacqueline Gladstone. The court entered a judgment against Gladstone and his surety, Ohio Casualty Insurance Company, for $167,000 “on the settlement of accounts and as damages” and $150,000 in punitive damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed the probate court’s judgment. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Ohio Casualty’s petition for certiorari, and the Georgia Supreme Court directed the parties to address two questions: (1) whether the appellate court erred in holding that a conservator’s bond covered punitive damages even though such damages were not expressly provided for under OCGA 29-5-40 et seq. or under the provisions of the bond itself; and (2) if a conservator’s bond did cover punitive damages, did the Court of Appeals err in holding that because the probate court complied with OCGA 29-5-92 (b) (4) in imposing sanctions against the petitioner, compliance with the procedures for imposing punitive damages under OCGA 51-12-5.1 was not required. The Supreme Court answered the first question in the affirmative, rendering the second question moot. View "In re Estate of Gladstone" on Justia Law

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In consolidated actions, brothers-appellants Alex and David Peterson claimed, among other things, that their mother, appellee Mary Peterson, and their brother, appellee Calhoun Peterson, had breached their duties as executors of the will of Mary’s husband, Charles Hugh Peterson, and as trustees of a bypass trust created by that will. This appeal stemmed from the superior court’s grant of a motion for summary judgment filed by Mary. Of the many allegations of the complaints, the superior court specifically addressed two of them: one was Alex’s and David’s allegation that Mary and Calhoun, as trustees, had not properly considered the testator’s stated intention “to provide for the proper support and education of my descendants taking into account and consideration any other means of support they or any of them may have to the knowledge of the Trustees.” With regard to this issue, the superior court ruled against Alex and David for two reasons: (1) because Item 21 of the will provided that a decision of the majority of the trustees would be controlling only so long as Mary was one of the majority, Alex and David would be entitled to income under the bypass trust only if Mary approved it; and (2) because of the requirement that Mary be a part of the majority of executors or trustees for one of their decisions to control, because of the benefits granted to Mary under the trusts, and because of her power to appoint trust property, the primary purpose of the trusts was to support Mary, and there was thus “no requirement that income be provided to either [Alex or David].” The Georgia Supreme Court concluded that based on the facts of record, these conclusions did not warrant the grant of summary judgment to Mary. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "Peterson v. Peterson" on Justia Law

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In a feud between siblings over their aunt’s estate, the question presented for the Georgia Supreme Court's review was the propriety of the extensive relief granted by the trial court on a motion for an interlocutory injunction. Because most of the relief was not proper interlocutory relief, the Supreme Court vacated the disputed parts of the trial court’s order and remanded the case. View "Barnes v. Channel" on Justia Law

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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