Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi
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The Supreme Court of Mississippi was asked to interpret Mississippi's Principal and Income Act of 2013 in a case involving the distribution of funds from a trust. The Crider Family Share Trust named Juliette Crider as the income beneficiary and Nathan Ricklin and Megan Woolwine as remainder beneficiaries. The Trustee, Haidee Oppie Sheffield, distributed a significant amount from Muskegon Energy Co. to the income beneficiary. Ricklin and Woolwine contended that this distribution was a breach of fiduciary duty, as they believed the funds should have been allocated to them as remainder beneficiaries. They argued that the distribution constituted a partial liquidation of the energy company's assets, and pursuant to the Principal and Income Act, the funds should have been allocated to the principal (the remainder beneficiaries) rather than the income beneficiary.The Jackson County Chancery Court ruled in favor of Sheffield. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the lower court's decision. The Supreme Court held that the determination of whether a distribution is in partial or full liquidation, as per Section 91-7-401(e) of the Principal and Income Act, must be made on a post-tax basis. The court found that after reducing for income taxes paid by the Trust, the distributions from Muskegon Energy Co. fell below the 20 percent threshold that would trigger a partial liquidation. Therefore, the court concluded that the distributions were not in partial liquidation and Sheffield, the Trustee, did not breach any duty owed to Ricklin and Woolwine, the remainder beneficiaries. View "In The Matter of the Crider Family Share Trust v. Sheffield" on Justia Law

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Richard Biddle and Brian Biddle questioned whether the Chancery Court of Tishomingo County, Mississippi had jurisdiction over their father’s estate. Brian and Richard also appealed the chancery court’s finding that there was no evidence of undue influence by their stepmother. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found venue and jurisdiction were proper and that no evidence of undue influence was presented. View "In The Matter of The Estate of Frederick Adams Biddle" on Justia Law

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James Hal Ross created a series of trusts prior to his death to benefit his wife, Suzanne Dickson Ross, and sons from a previous marriage. He left some personal effects to Suzanne in his will but bequeathed the remainder of his estate to the James Hal Ross Revocable Trust, created on November 28, 2000. The revocable trust specified that Ross and Suzanne were the beneficiaries during Ross’s lifetime but that, upon his death, its assets would be transferred to two different trusts. The will of Ross was probated, and the estate was closed on July 29, 2005. Eight years later in 2013, the Ross sons petitioned to reopen the estate due to “maladministration” by Suzanne, individually and as executrix, and to require an inventory and accounting of all Suzanne’s activities as executrix of the estate. The action was dismissed in 2014. In 2016, Matthew Ross, through his conservator, Roy Hal Parker Jr., filed a complaint alleging mismanagement of the trusts and the improper selling of trust property by Suzanne. The complaint later was amended to include as Plaintiffs Matthew’s other brothers. Defendants responded by filing or joining another Defendant’s motion to dismiss; alternatively, Defendants sought to transfer the case to the Rankin County Chancery Court. Venue was ultimately transferred and defendants' motion to dismiss was granted based on a general three year statute of limitations. The Court of Appeals agreed with the Ross sons that a ten year statute of limitations applied to some of their claims and ultimately reversed and remanded the case for the chancellor to determine which of the Ross sons’ causes of action dealt with mismanagement of the trusts and with the recovery of land. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred by ruling on issues not properly pled before the chancery court, so the chancellor's judgment as to the ten year statute of limitations was reinstated. However, the Supreme Court found the Ross sons did sufficiently raise genuine issues of material fact as to Matthew’s soundness of mind, so it affirmed the Court of Appeals in this respect, and remanded the case to the chancery court for further proceedings. View "Parker, et al. v. Ross, et al." on Justia Law

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Helen McNeal, who had been appointed administratrix of Delores Mason’s estate, brought a wrongful death claim against a physician, Dr. Eniola Otuseso. Upon learning that McNeal did not satisfy the qualifications to serve as an administratrix, Otuseso moved to intervene in the estate matter and to strike the letters of administration. The chancellor denied her motion. But the chancellor, upon learning that McNeal was not related to the decedent and that she was a convicted felon, removed McNeal as administratrix and appointed the decedent’s two siblings, who were Delores Mason’s heirs at law, as coadministrators of the estate. Otuseso appealed the chancellor’s decision to deny her motion to intervene and the decision to replace McNeal, with the decedent’s actual heirs at law. Otuseso argued she had a right to intervene in the estate matter and that the chancellor was without authority to substitute the decedent’s heirs as the new administrators. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s decision to substitute and appoint the decedent’s siblings and heirs as the coadministrators of Mason’s estate. Because Otuseso sought to intervene in the estate matter to challenge McNeal’s qualifications as admininstratrix, the Supreme Court found that the question of intervention was moot as it no longer was at issue, due to the chancellor’s rightful removal of the unqualified administratrix and his appointment of successor coadministrators. View "Otuseso v. Estate of Delores Mason, et al." on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Baptist Foundation and various heirs of the decedent’s wife both claimed ownership over certain mineral interests devised in the decedent’s will at the time of the decedent’s death in 1969. The will left most of the estate, including the mineral interests, to the Mississippi Baptist Foundation as trustee, with income from the trust going to the decedent’s wife for life, then to his sister for life, and then to benefit the Mississippi Baptist Foundation’s foreign missions. In 1969, Mississippi had mortmain laws (repealed in 1992 and 1993), the relevant portion of which provided that after ten years in the possession of certain proscribed institutions, including religious institutions, real property reverted to the decedent’s heirs if the institution failed to sell the property within that ten-year time period. The Mississippi Baptist Foundation and the heirs disagreed as to when the ten-year period began in this case, and, if it applied, whether the mortmain laws were unconstitutional. The trial court found that the mortmain laws were triggered on the date of the decedent’s death in 1969 and that the mortmain laws were constitutional. Because the Mississippi Baptist Foundation had a possessory interest in the mineral interests in 1969, and because it failed to timely assert any claims regarding the property after it gained possession in 1969, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Mississippi Baptist Foundation v. Fitch, et al." on Justia Law

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Lester Randle died in 2009, and was survived by Dorothy, his wife of twenty-one years, and their son, Raymond Randle. Lester had previously been married to Ruthie Randle. Two children were born of that marriage: Tumika and Sylvester, the Appellants. Ruthie and Lester divorced in 1977 when the children were very young. Lester died intestate. Dorothy was granted letters of administration of Lester's estate in which she noted the “estate consist[ed] of no real property but ha[d] a potential claim for unliquidated damages arising out of” Lester’s death. The petition acknowledged the Appellants, as well as Dorothy and Raymond, as Lester’s heirs at law. Dorothy petitioned for a determination of heirship, adding that the estate consisted of a claim for benefits against the manufacturer of Granuflow/Natural Lyte arising from Lester’s use of the prescription drug. The petition further claimed that the Appellants were “not heirs at law of Lester Randle and [were] not entitled to any of the settlement proceeds,” but rather they “were born to a married man, putative father,” and Ruthie. At a hearing before the chancery court, Cederica Gilliam appeared, claiming to be Lester’s heir; DNA testing was ordered on Lester’s putative children. The chancery court ultimately determined that Cederica was Lester's biological child, and Appellants were not his legal heirs at law based on the cross-referencing of the DNA results. Accordingly, the court adjudged Dorothy and Raymond as Lester’s only heirs at law and awarded them equal shares in any distribution of property. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the chancery court and the Court of Appeals incorrectly considered the settlement proceeds from the wrongful-death claim as an asset of the estate. Second, the lower courts incorrectly considered the petition to determine heirs under Mississippi Code Sections 91-1-1 to -31 (Rev. 2021) instead of a determination of wrongful-death beneficiaries under Mississippi Code Section 11-7-13 (Rev. 2019). The Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the appellate and chancery courts and remanded this case to the chancery court to determine the wrongful-death beneficiaries of Lester Randle under Section 11-7-13. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Lester Randle" on Justia Law

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Lester Randle died in 2009, survived by his wife and son, Dorothy and Raymond. Lester had previously been married to Ruthie Randle. Two children were born of that marriage: Tumika and Sylvester, the Appellants. Ruthie and Lester divorced in 1977 when the children were very young. Lester died intestate. On May 7, 2018, Dorothy filed a petition for grant of letters of administration in which she noted that Lester’s “estate consist[ed] of no real property but ha[d] a potential claim for unliquidated damages arising out of” Lester’s death. The petition acknowledged the Appellants, as well as Dorothy and Raymond, as Lester’s heirs at law. Dorothy was appointed administrator on July 12, 2018. On November 19, 2018, Dorothy filed a petition for a determination of heirship, now asserting that the estate consisted of a claim for benefits against the manufacturer of Granuflow/Natural Lyte in the amount of $67,500.25 arising from Lester’s use of the prescription drug. The petition further claimed that the Appellants were “not heirs at law of Lester Randle and [were] not entitled to any of the settlement proceeds,” but rather they “were born to a married man, putative father,” and Ruthie. A summons by publication was submitted in the newspaper to any unknown heirs. The Court of Appeals affirmed a chancellor's adjudication that Dorothy and Raymond were Lester's only heirs at law. The issues this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether the chancery court and the Court of Appeals incorrectly considered the settlement proceeds from a wrongful-death claim as an asset of the estate; and (2) whether the chancery court and the Court of Appeals incorrectly considered the petition to determine heirs under Mississippi Code Sections 91-1-1 to -31 (Rev. 2021) instead of a determination of wrongful-death beneficiaries under Mississippi Code Section 11-7-13 (Rev. 2019). The Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the Court of Appeals and chancery court and remanded this case to the chancery court to determine the wrongful-death beneficiaries of Lester under Section 11-7-13. View "Randle v. Randle" on Justia Law

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This interlocutory appeal centered on two provisions in a will related to an estate’s attorney’s fees: (1) the testator directed that his Co-Executrices not be personally liable for any expenses incurred in administering the estate, including attorney’s fees; and (2) the testator directed that the cost of any judicial challenge to the Co-Executrices’ actions or decisions would be borne by the beneficiary lodging the challenge, regardless of the outcome. One of ten beneficiaries lodged a challenge to the Co-Executrices’ actions. But the chancellor did not order that beneficiary to bear the estate’s attorney’s fees. Instead, the chancellor ordered the Co-Executrices to personally pay the attorney’s fees incurred by the estate. Because the chancellor’s decision on attorney’s fees appeared to contradict both provisions in the will, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted the Co-Executrices’ petition for interlocutory appeal. After review, the Supreme Court found the second provision shifting the attorney’s fees from the estate to the beneficiary is unenforceable. While a testator has authority to control his own assets, he does not have authority to compel a beneficiary to pay attorney’s fees. Thus, the Court affirmed the chancellor’s order to the extent it denied the Co-Executrices’ request that the beneficiary who judicially challenged their actions to pay the estate’s attorney’s fees. That said, the Court found the first provision relieving the Co-Executrices of personal responsibility for attorney’s fees was enforceable and consistent with Mississippi public policy. That portion of the chancellor’s decision was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Estate of Michael N. Bakarich v. Bakarich" on Justia Law

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Frankie Ware died in 2011, survived by his wife, Carolyn Ware, and their three children, Dana Ware, Angela Ware Mohr, and Richard Ware. Richard was married to Melisa Ware. Carolyn was appointed executor of Frankie’s estate. At the time of his death, Frankie owned 25 percent of four different family corporations. Carolyn owned another 25 percent of each, and Richard owned 50 percent of each. Frankie’s will placed the majority of Frankie’s assets, including his shares in the four family corporations, into two testamentary trusts for which Carolyn, Richard, Angela, and Dana were appointed trustees. The primary beneficiary of both trusts was Carolyn, but one trust allowed potential, limited distributions to Richard, Angela, and Dana. Prolonged litigation between Carolyn and Richard ensued over disagreements regarding how to dispose of Frankie’s shares in the four corporations and how to manage the four corporations. Richard eventually filed for dissolution of the four corporations. The trial court ultimately consolidated the estate case with the corporate dissolution case, and denied Angela and Dana’s motions to join/intervene in both cases. It also appointed a corporate receiver (Derek Henderson) in the dissolution case by agreed order that also authorized dissolution. The chancery court ultimately ordered that the shares be offered for sale to the corporations, and it approved the dissolution and sale of the corporations. Angela and Dana appealed the trial court’s denial of their attempts to join or intervene in the two cases. Carolyn appeals a multitude of issues surrounding the trial court’s decisions regarding the corporations and shares. Richard cross-appealed the trial court’s net asset value determination date and methodology. The Receiver argued the trial court’s judgment should have been affirmed on all issues. In the estate case, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the chancery court’s determination that the estate had to offer the shares to the corporation prior to transferring them to the trusts; the corporations filed their breach of contract claim after the expiration of the statute of limitations. The Court affirmed the chancery court’s denial of Angela and Dana’s motions to intervene, and it affirmed the chancery court’s decision in the dissolution case. The Court reversed the judgment to the extent that it allowed the corporations to purchase shares from the estate. The cases were remanded to the chancery court for a determination of how to distribute the money from the corporate sales, in which the estate held 25 percent of the corporate shares. View "In The Matter of The Estate of Frankie Don Ware" on Justia Law

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Luke Beard executed a will on February 13, 1987. The will named Luke’s daughter, Diane Christmas, as executrix, and it left all of Luke’s property, including thirty-two acres of land, to his grandson, Antonio Christmas. Despite being named as executrix, Diane did not know about the will. Luke died on February 26, 2001. After Luke’s death, Diane and Antonio became estranged. Having no knowledge of the will, Diane petitioned to open an estate in 2002. Antonio was unaware of the estate proceeding. At some point in 2003, Antonio found Luke’s will in a closet in Luke’s house. Antonio did not tell his mother about the will and took no action regarding the will. In 2014, Diane filed a second petition to open an estate. As with the first petition, Antonio was unaware of the estate proceeding. According to Antonio, an order was later entered closing the estate and vesting title of the thirty-two acres of land to Diane. In 2017, Good Hope, Inc., entered the land and started to cut timber on the property. When Antonio attempted to stop them, he learned of the estate actions filed by Diane. Seventeen years after Luke’s death and fifteen years after he found the will, Antonio petitioned to probate Luke’s will. Diane contested the will and filed her objection to Antonio’s petition to probate. The matter went to trial before the chancery court. The issue this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review was what evidence was required to prove the execution of a will when both the testator and the subscribing witnesses are deceased. The Court found that in the absence of the testimony of at least one subscribing witness, a proponent of a will must prove the handwriting of the testator and at least two subscribing witnesses. Because there was proof of only one of the subscribing witnesses’ signatures, the chancellor did not err by dismissing the petition to probate the purported will. View "In the Matter of the Last Will and Testament of Luke Beard" on Justia Law