Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying Appellant’s motion to amend her complaint to name the personal representative of her deceased husband’s estate as the proper party defendant and dismissing the action as time-barred, holding that the circuit court did not err. The decedent executed a holographic will that excluded his wife, Ray, as a beneficiary of his estate. Following her husband’s death, Appellant filed an action to claim her elective share of the augmented estate. The administratrix of the estate was not named as a party to the action. When Appellant realized the error, she requested that the circuit court enter an order adding the administratrix to the complaint as a party defendant. The circuit court denied the motion and dismissed the action as time-barred. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant failed to identify the proper party defendant in the complaint as filed; and (2) Appellant was time-barred from bringing a new and proper action against the estate’s personal representative. View "Ray v. Ready" on Justia Law

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In this appeal of a judgment in a will contest the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant’s motion to strike the evidence and holding that the evidence was sufficient as a matter of law to support the jury’s verdict that the will was the result of undue influence, holding that the trial court should have granted Defendant’s motion to strike the evidence at the close of all evidence. The complaint in this case sought to impeach a will on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence. At the close of the evidence Defendant filed a motion to strike the evidence. The trial court granted the motion to strike as to testamentary capacity but overruled it as to undue influence. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Plaintiff’s evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to support an allegation of undue influence. View "Parson v. Miller" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court admitting a will to probate, holding that the trial court properly admitted testimony to refute the claim that the will was fraudulent and did not err in declining to adopt a novel and more rigorous standard for admitting a will to probate. On appeal, Appellant argued that the trial court erred in considering testimony to establish the testamentary nature of the document proffered for probate and erred in failing to require the proponent of the will to authenticate all three pages of the document. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the trial court properly considered the challenged testimony to establish that the first two unsigned pages of the will were entirely consistent with the testator’s stated testamentary intentions and to refuse the assertion that they were not part of his original will; and (2) the will was properly authenticated. View "Canody v. Hamblin" on Justia Law

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At issue was how to construe a will’s residuary clause to determine what estate it granted to the testator’s wife (Wife) and whether Appellants were entitled to their attorneys’ fees under the doctrine of judicial instructions. Testator’s son filed a complaint asking the circuit court to construe the residuary clause as granting Wife a life estate in the residual property. The circuit court granted Wife’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that the intent of Testator was to devise and bequeath all of the rest and residue of the estate to Wife and that a life estate was not created. Despite this adverse ruling, Testator’s two sons (together, Appellants) moved for the circuit court to tax their attorneys’ fees against the estate on the ground that the meaning of the residuary clause required judicial instruction. The circuit court declined to do so. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part, holding (1) the residuary clause unambiguously granted Wife a life estate in the residual property; and (2) the circuit court properly refused to award attorneys’ fees under the doctrine of judicial instructions. View "Feeney v. Feeney" on Justia Law

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In this complaint seeking to impeach a will on the grounds of undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court sustaining Defendants’ plea in bar on the grounds of claim preclusion, issue preclusion, and judicial estoppel. The circuit court based its decision on three grounds. The Supreme Court rejected each ground, holding that claim preclusion, issue preclusion, and judicial estoppel did not bar Plaintiff’s complaint to impeach the decedent’s will in this case. The court remanded the case to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "D'Ambrosio v. Wolf" on Justia Law

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The circuit court did not err by concluding that a holographic writing did not comply with Va. Code 64.2-403 or -404. After the decedent died, the executor of the decedent’s estate submitted the decedent’s will and a writing written across a divider in a binder filled with estate planning documents that the executor argued was a codicil. The circuit court clerk admitted the will to probate but concluded that the writing was not a validly executed codicil. The executor appealed. The circuit court refused to probate the writing as a codicil, concluding that it did not comply with the statutory requirements set forth in section 64.2-403. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the record supported the circuit court’s rulings that the writing was neither signed in the manner required by section 64.2-403(A) nor intended to constitute a codicil. View "Irving v. Divito" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiff’s claims of undue influence in this action seeking to void a trust established by the decedent eight days before his death. Plaintiff, the decedent’s wife, argued that there were suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of the trust and that Defendant, the drafter of the trust, used his position to procure the trust. When Defendant separately filed a complaint seeking to establish the will established by the decedent at the same time he established the trust as the last true will and testament of the decedent, Plaintiff filed a counterclaim asserting that the will was executed under Defendant’s undue influence and was therefore void. The circuit court sustained Defendant’s plea in bar to the counterclaim and then granted summary judgment to Defendant on the complaint claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in dismissing, with prejudice, Plaintiff’s claims of undue influence. View "Kim v. Kim" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court ruling that the Commissioner of Accounts had subject matter jurisdiction to hear a petition for aid and direction initially filed with the Commissioner seeking construction of the decedent’s will and the determination of his heirs. The court held (1) Appellant had standing to bring this appeal because the circuit court could potentially determine that he was a beneficiary of the will on remand, and Rule 5:25 also did not bar this appeal because challenges to subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time; and (2) the Commissioner did not exceed his authority when he, without a referral from the circuit court, conducted a hearing and produced a report interpreting the decedent’s will and determining his heirs. View "Gray v. Binder" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the validity of instruments executed by Beverly Gelber two months before she died. The documents purported to convey Beverly’s home and personal property to her daughter, Meryl Glock. Lawrence Gelber and Darlene Fleischmann, Beverly’s children and the executors of her estate, filed this lawsuit asserting that Meryl wrongfully induced Beverly to execute a deed of gift and bill of sale through undue influence and fraud and that the bill of sale, which Beverly executed in her individual capacity, was of no effect because Beverly’s personal property was held in trust. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the circuit court and remanded this case for a new trial, holding that the circuit court (1) did not err in denying the executors’ motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of title and possession of Beverly’s personal property, in excluding records of real estate tax assessments on Beverly’s home, and in granting the motion to strike the executors’ evidence on the civil conspiracy claims; and (2) erred in excluding from evidence declarations made by Beverly disavowing the property transfers and in granting the motion to strike the executors’ evidence on their claims for undue influence and promissory fraud. View "Gelber v. Glock" on Justia Law

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Frank Still and Jane Still, who were married, created trusts in 1991 and amended those trusts in 1999. Also in 1999, Frank executed a durable power of attorney. Frank designated Jane as his attorney-in-fact should he become incapacitated and LaVerne Lemen, his daughter, as his successor attorney-in-fact. Frank’s other child was Jeffrey Still. Frank’s power of attorney vested his agent with broad powers. In 2011, Jane died, and Lemen and Still received nothing from Jane’s estate. Upon Jane’s death, Lemen became Frank’s attorney-in-fact, and she and Still became co-trustees of Frank’s trust and the executors of his will. Lemen and Still relied on the broad power of attorney to create an inter vivos trust that disinherited Jane’s heirs and provided for Lemen and Still to receive Frank’s entire estate at his death. William Reineck, Jane’s heir, filed suit against Lemen and Still, alleging breach of fiduciary duty. The trial court granted summary judgment for Lemen and Still. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment with the exception of the award of attorney’s fees against Reineck personally, holding (1) Lemen’s actions were authorized by the power of attorney; and (2) the court erred in awarding attorney’s fees. View "Reineck v. Lemen" on Justia Law