Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi
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Two cases were consolidated for review. In the first, Amanda Boyd and George Ben Ratcliff Jr. (George Ben Jr.) filed a complaint challenging an inter vivos gift of real property to Patricia Smith, which ended in the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Smith. Boyd and George Ben Jr. appeal the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in Smith’s favor. In the second, the trial court granted summary judgment to Patricia Smith in a will contest filed by Boyd and her brother George Ben Jr. The trial court granted summary judgment pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 91-7-23 (Rev. 2018), which provides a two- year statute of limitations to contest a probated will. Finding no reversible error in either case, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court. View "Boyd v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Kenneth Rogers appealed a chancery court order granting authority to the executor of the Estate of Costas E. Pavlou (the estate) to disburse funds to the estate’s attorneys. The chancellor found that Rogers lacked standing to challenge the disbursement because he had not probated a claim against the estate. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found it had jurisdiction over the appeal, but Rogers did not designate the documents on which he based his appellate challenge to the chancellor's decision. Because the Supreme Court was unable to review Rogers' arguments due to his not having designated relevant portions of the record, the chancery court order was affirmed. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Costas E. Pavlou" on Justia Law

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Harry Green owned multiple properties at the time of his death, eight of which were at issue in this appeal. Several years prior to his death, Harry conveyed these properties to his sister Shirley Cooley, and later had Shirley reconvey six of the properties back to him. The reconveyance deeds were not notarized or recorded. Years later, Harry executed a will that divested the properties to his wife, Cristina Green, and to his grandchildren. The chancery court and the Court of Appeals found that Harry never accepted the reconveyance deeds and declined to impose a constructive trust, holding that Shirley owned all eight properties. Because the evidence clearly indicates that Harry accepted the six reconveyance deeds, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the Court of Appeals and the chancery court as to the ownership of the six reconveyed properties. However, the Court found Cristina did not establish by clear and convincing evidence that a constructive trust was warranted. The Court therefore affirmed the judgments of the Court of Appeals and the chancery court regarding the ownership of the two properties not subject to reconveyance deeds. View "In Re Estate of Harry J. Green" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a chancery court’s reformation of a trust based on the court’s finding that a scrivener’s error had occurred in drafting the trust instrument, which rendered the trust’s language ambiguous and thwarted the grantor’s intent. The estate of Barry Christopher Blackburn, Jr., along with four nonprofit groups named in the trust appealed the chancery court’s decision, claiming that the trust’s language was not ambiguous and that the chancery court erroneously disregarded the grantor’s intent as stated in the trust. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court's reformation of the trust. "While a mistake had been made with the drafting of the trust instrument which justified correction of the trust’s language by the chancery court, this was not a complicated case. As the chancery court found, a reading of the whole trust instrument itself reveals that a mistake had been made and it clearly shows Barry’s true intent regarding the corpus of the trust." The Court reversed and remanded, however, the court's award of attorney fees in this case, because the court did not make findings that the fees were "reasonable" or that "justice and equity" required the fees be paid from the trust. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Barry C. Blackburn, Sr., Deceased" on Justia Law

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After a mother requested life-insurance proceeds for the benefit of her two minor children after the death of the children’s father, the insurance company requested that she provide the appropriate guardianship documentation. The insurance company received the order appointing the mother guardian and providing directions for the issuance of funds. But the insurance company did not issue the funds as instructed by the order, and the mother misappropriated the funds. A guardian ad litem was then appointed by the chancery court for the minor children and eventually sued the insurance company in the Mississippi Circuit Court for negligence and breach of contract. The circuit court granted the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment, holding that because the insurance company was not a party to the guardianship proceeding in chancery court, the insurance company was not subject to liability for an alleged violation of the guardianship order. The Mississippi Supreme Court found, however, that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to the insurance company’s liability and that summary judgment should not have been granted. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a trial on the merits. View "Samson v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America" on Justia Law

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Daniel Tewksbury and Bobbie Young were previously married and were the parents of two minor children, Lane and Emma. They divorced in May 2006, and Daniel was ordered to pay child support. Daniel stopped making child-support payments in 2008. Bobbie later married Gerald Young, Jr. Gerald filed a petition to adopt Lane and Emma. In the adoption, Daniel’s parental rights were terminated. As of the termination of his parental rights, Daniel owed Bobbie $34,759 for child support. On April 5, 2015, Daniel died in an automobile accident. The accident occurred while Daniel was in the course and scope of his employment with Air Masters Mechanical, Inc. Bobbie then filed a petition with the Workers’ Compensation Commission on behalf of Lane and Emma, claiming that the children were entitled to Daniel’s workers’ compensation death-benefit proceeds and sought the payment of the $34,759 in outstanding child support. The Workers’ Compensation Commission Administrative Judge (AJ) determined that the child-support lien of $34,759 was valid and payable under Section 71-3-129. Air Masters and Associated General Contractors filed a petition for review with the Commission. The Commission concluded that Lane and Emma were not entitled to Daniel’s death benefits because they were not his statutory dependents under Mississippi Code Section 71-3-25 (Supp. 2019). The Commission reversed the AJ’s order and dismissed Bobbie’s petition. On appeal, a divided Court of Appeals reversed the Commission’s decision, concluding the child-support lien was valid. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed, finding Section 71-3-129 did not authorize a lien on death benefits payable directly to the deceased employee’s statutory dependents. Accordingly, the child-support lien did not apply to Daniel’s death benefits. Further, because Daniel had no statutory dependents, there were simply no benefits to which the lien can attach in this case. As a result, the Commission properly dismissed the claim. The judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed. The judgment of the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission was reinstated and affirmed. View "Young v. Air Masters Mechanical Inc." on Justia Law

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Sixteen-year old Julisa Matute, along with her sister and father, were involved in a motor-vehicle accident in Harrison County, Mississippi. Julisa was transported to Mobile, Alabama, and was admitted to University of South Alabama Medical Center, a hospital operated by University of South Alabama (USA). Julisa died there intestate. Julisa’s mother and sister executed an authorization for the donation of Julisa’s organs with the Alabama Organ Center (AOC). An estate was opened; Julisa’s mother was appointed administratrix of the Estate. Shortly thereafter notice was served to creditors, USA probated a claim against the Estate for medical expenses. The Estate filed a “complaint to contest illegal probated claim and compulsory counterclaim,” alleging that before Julisa’s death, USA representatives approached Julisa’s family and asked that they donate her organs and, in turn, Julisa’s hospital bill incurred at USA would be “totally wiped out and not be collected.” As a result of this alleged agreement, the Estate contested USA’s probated claim and asserted that the “probated claim [wa]s null and void and uncollectable.” In a counterclaim, the Estate alleged emotional distress, fraud, and punitive damages because, according to the Estate, “[t]he hospital told [Julisa’s family] that the bill would be wiped clean for allowing them to have [Julisa’s] organs . . . .” A wrongful-death lawsuit related to the motor-vehicle accident was filed then by the Estate. A settlement was reached among the parties in September 2018. Months later, a hearing was held on USA’s contested probated claim. The chancellor entered a judgment approving the Estate’s Petition to Receive First and Final Accounting, Discharge Administratrix and Close Estate. USA filed a motion to alter or amend the order granting the Estate’s Petition to Approve Settlement of Claims of Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Julisa, and asserted that the chancellor’s reference to a “hospital lien claim” was erroneous. The chancellor denied the motion. USA timely appealed. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined that while the chancellor properly denied USA's probated claim as uncollectable, the chancellor erred in finding the probated claim was invalid and erroneously ruled on USA's hospital-lien claim. As a result, the chancery court's judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Julisa Matute" on Justia Law

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Carolyn Bowen Young had medical problems affecting her ability to make financial decisions, so a chancery court appointed a conservator over her estate. When Carolyn’s conservatorship no longer was necessary, the chancery court terminated the conservatorship by agreement of Carolyn’s husband, her sons, her conservator, and the guardian ad litem. But the judgment also made provisions for Carolyn’s funds to be retained in the registry of the court, an agreement to which Carolyn was not privy. Carolyn later requested release of the entirety of her funds, which the chancery court denied. Carolyn appealed, but died shortly after filing the appeal. Jim Young, Carolyn’s husband, filed, substituted himself as a party. The Mississippi Supreme Court found the chancery court erred by continuing to hold Carolyn’s funds in the registry of the court after the conservatorship was terminated. Furthermore, the Court found the chancery court abused its discretion by sua sponte ordering that the sons’ attorneys’ fees be paid out of Carolyn’s funds held in the registry of the court. Because Carolyn was deceased, issues on cross-appeal were moot. View "In the Matter of the Conservatorship of Carolyn Bowen Young" on Justia Law

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The Chancery Court set aside an interviews gift of about forty acres of land fronting Highway 6 near Oxford, Mississippi. Ninety-year-old grantor Mary Saunders Waller, hard of hearing and legally blind, allegedly granted the land to Waller’s daughter and son-in-law, Brenda and Craig Gordon. A conservator for Waller’s estate petitioned the probate court to set aside the deed to the Gordons. The chancellor found the Gordons were unable to rebut the presumption of undue influence. On appeal, the Gordons contended the Chancery Court erred in excluding certain testimony of Waller’s attorney and her physicians. The Mississippi Supreme Court found, however, the Gordons failed to make an offer of proof: since the Supreme Court would have no way of knowing what the physicians would have said had they testified, the Court could not conclude excluding their testimony was an error. The Court determined the Chancery Court did not abuse its discretion denying the Gordons’ motion for a new trial “based on arguments that could have, and should have, been raised at trial.” View "In The Matter of The Last Will & Testament of Mary Saunders Waller" on Justia Law

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Larry Seward worked for Illinois Central Railroad Company from 1961 to 2004. In 2005, Seward settled an asbestosis claim with Illinois Central. He subsequently developed and passed away from anaplastic oligodendroglioma, a type of brain cancer. In 2012, Andrew L. Ward sued Illinois Central on behalf of Seward. Ward alleged that Illinois Central breached its duty of care and failed to provide Seward with a safe place to work. The complaint detailed specific issues with the work environment, including Seward’s exposure to chemicals and hazardous conditions. The complaint alleged that the working environment “caused, in whole or in part,” Seward’s brain cancer. Illinois Central filed a motion for summary judgment based on a previous settlement and release that Seward had entered into with Illinois Central before his death. The trial court granted Illinois Central’s motion for summary judgment. Ward appealed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined there were no remaining issues of material fact, therefore, affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Ward v. Illinois Central Railroad Company" on Justia Law