Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court in these appeals regarding two brothers' disputes concerning the administration of their deceased mother's estate, holding that the circuit court did not err in removing both brother from their fiduciary roles and replacing them with a disinterested third party.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in removing the brothers as co-executors on the basis that the brothers were, to the detriment of the estate, deadlocked concerning the administration of the estate; (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying the brothers compensation, legal fees, and costs; and (3) there was no reversible error regarding the presence of a third brother in the courtroom during the trial. View "Galiotos v. Galiotos" on Justia Law

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In this appeal arising out of a suit to impeach a will the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying a plea in bar, holding that if the circuit court erred in denying the plea in bar, any error was harmless.Ten days before the decedent's death, Robert Machen, a lawyer who had befriended the decedent, presented the decedent with copies of a will he had drafted for her signature. The decedent signed the will, which contained a no-contest clause providing that the decedent's family members would get nothing from the estate if they contested the will. All family members except David Williams signed a release form. Williams then brought this suit to impeach the will. Machen filed a plea in bar asserting that Williams lacked standing to sue. The circuit court denied the plea in bar and held that the will and been procured by undue influence and fraud. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that any error in denying the plea in bar as to Williams was harmless. View "Machen v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court sustaining Defendant's plea in bar and dismissing Plaintiffs' action, holding that Plaintiffs had standing and were not collaterally estopped from pursuing the claims asserted in their complaint.Defendant, the matriarch of the Plofchan family, created a trust and named two of her children, Plaintiffs, as co-trustees. Defendant then petitioned the Supreme Court to appoint her daughter as her property guardian. The guardianship court denied relief, finding Defendant was not an incapacitated person. Plaintiffs then filed a complaint against Defendant seeking injunctive relief to prohibit Defendant from dissipating trust assets and interfering with the trust's administration. The circuit court sustained Defendant's plea in bar and dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court abused its discretion in sustaining the plea in bar for collateral estoppel and lack of standing, and the errors were not harmless. View "Plofchan v. Plofchan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the determination of the trial court that James Charles St. John must pay attorney fees to the person he defrauded, holding that the circuit court did not err.St. John befriended his neighbor, Ernest Stuart Elsea, II. St. John subsequently persuaded Elsea to transfer his extensive firearm collection to a firearm trust that St. John established and controlled and had Elsea sign a durable power of attorney. St. John then induced Elsea to sign a codicil to his will naming St. John and St. John's partner as beneficiaries. Elsea filed a complaint seeking an accounting and a recovery of the firearms, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, and alleging fraud an undue influence. The circuit court rejected counts one and two but ordered St. John to either return the firearms to Elsea or pay Elsea the value of the firearms. The circuit court then ordered St. John to pay attorney's fees. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court properly awarded fees under Prospect Development Co. v. Bershader, 258 Va. 75 (1999). View "St. John v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiffs' complaint regarding the distribution of Dr. Lloyd Griffith's estate, holding that Plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the claims asserted.Dr. Griffith was survived by his three adult children - two daughters (collectively, Plaintiffs) and a son, Charles - and his second wife, Mary Cate. Charles, acting as the personal representative of Dr. Griffith's estate, requested to probate his father's 2010 will after initially probating a 2008 will. The circuit court ordered that the 2010 be entered into probate. In 2018, Plaintiffs filed a complaint listing Mary Cate and Charles as defendants, alleging, among other claims, breach of fiduciary duty, waste of the estate, constructive fraud, and conversion. The circuit court dismissed the claims with prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs' factual allegations were insufficient to establish standing. View "Platt v. Griffith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court sustaining Defendant's demurrer to Plaintiffs' suit, holding that "fair market value" on a specified date, without more specificity, was not a sufficiently certain price term to allow a court to compel specific performance of a contract regarding the purchase of real estate.The decedent executed a will wherein she devised property to Plaintiffs, her three daughters. In the same will, the decedent granted her son, Defendant, an option to purchase the property from his sisters. The decedent then executed a codicil to her will revising the purchase price for the option to "an amount equal to the fair market value at the time of my death." In their complaint, Plaintiffs sought specific performance of a contract for the purchase of real estate. The circuit court dismissed the case with prejudice, holding that there was no enforceable contract because the will and codicil did not determine the purchase price and did not provide a method of determining the purchase price. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the term "fair market value," as set forth in the codicil, did not provide a price for the property, nor did it provide a mode for ascertaining the price with sufficient certainty. View "Wilburn v. Mangano" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court awarding Tracey Martin her agreed-upon share of proceeds of John Wood's insurance policy after he committed suicide, holding that the circuit court did not err.During their divorce proceeding, Wood agreed to maintain a preexisting life insurance policy for the partial benefit of Tracey Martin. The circuit court incorporated the agreement (the agreement) into the final divorce decree. Six years later, in defiance of the court order, Wood removed Martin as a beneficiary and designated his brothers, his new wife, and a friend as beneficiaries on the policy. Wood committed suicide two days later. In a lawsuit initiated by Martin, the insurer interpleaded the policy proceeds. The circuit court awarded Martin her share of the proceeds consistent with the divorce decree. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Va. Code 38.2-3122(B) did not bar Martin's claim because the final divorce decree that ratified and incorporated the agreement created an equitable assignment; and (2) faced with competing equities, the circuit court did not err in finding Martin's beneficial interest in the interpleader proceeds to be superior to that of the new beneficiaries. View "Wood v. Martin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Plaintiff's request for attorneys' fees from the unrepresented parties in her partition suit under Va. Code 8.01-92 and denying Plaintiff's requests to share the costs for bringing the action and for an award of the rental value of the subject property from the parties who occupied it, holding that the trial court did not err.Plaintiff and her four siblings inherited real property from their mother. Plaintiff later brought suit to partition the property and requested that the trial court compel its sale and divide the proceeds according to the parties' respective rights and interests after subtracting the expenses of Plaintiff's suit. Two siblings appeared at trial pro se. The trial court ordered that the property be sold and the proceeds be split equally among all five siblings and denied Plaintiff's request for fair rental value. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court (1) did not err in refusing to award Plaintiff reasonable attorney's fees out of the shares of the unrepresented siblings in the proceeds of the sale of the property; (2) did not err in failing to divide the costs of the partition suit equally among the siblings; and (3) did not err in failing to award fair rental value. View "Berry v. Fitzhugh" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court interpreting certain provisions of the will of Sandra Larsen's late husband and determining that Sandra did not have a life estate in the decedent's property, holding that the circuit court did not err.The decedent's will divided his estate between Sandra, his children, Pamela and Kirk, and his grandchildren. Pamela and Kirk filed a complaint for declaratory judgment requesting the circuit court to construe the terms of the decedent's will and determine the extent of Sandra's interest in the decedent's house and farm. The circuit court determined that Sandra did not have a life estate in the property, noting that Sandra's rights to the property were subject to be terminated when she was no longer physically or mentally able to reside in the home. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the decedent's will did not gave Sandra a life estate in the property; (2) Pamela and Kirk had concurrent rights to access and use the property; and (3) parol evidence was necessary to interpret the scope of Sandra's rights. View "Larsen v. Stack" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that an obstructive act committed before the accrual of a cause of action tolls the statute of limitations under Va. Code 8.01-229(D) regardless of whether the cause of action has accrued at the time of the obstructive act.After Nelson Mackey left a law firm, the remaining partners - Griffith Dodson, Richard Pence, and Richard Viar - formed another partnership. Pence, Dodson, and Viar subsequently passed away. Mackey told Michael Quinn, who helped Joyce Viar with tax matters regarding Richard's estate, that certain stock that the former partnership owned had no financial interest to Mrs. Viar. Therefore, the estate did not attempt to collect the stock. Mackey subsequently sold the stock. When the three estates learned of the stock's existence and Mackey's actions, they sued Mackey alleging conversion of the stock. The trial court concluded that Mackey converted the stock, that section 8.01-229(D) tolled the limitations period, and that the tolling applied to all of the estates. The Supreme Court held (1) Mackey's representation to Quinn was sufficient to toll the statute of limitations as to Mrs. Via; but (2) because Mackey demonstrated no obstructive intent as to the Dodson or Pence estates, section 8.01-229(D) did not toll the limitations period for their claims. View "Mackey v. McDannald" on Justia Law