Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of the trustee of a living trust and dismissing with prejudice the beneficiary's declaratory judgment action seeking a judicial interpretation of two provisions of the trust, holding that the circuit court erred in dismissing the beneficiary's complaint. In response to the declaratory judgment action, the trustee filed a counterclaim seeking a declaratory judgment that the beneficiary's action had violated a no-contest provision of the trust, and therefore, the circuit court should revoke the beneficiary's interest in the trust. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the trustee on her counterclaim and directed the beneficiary to pay the trustee attorney fees. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the beneficiary's complaint did not violate the no-contest provision of the trust and thus require the forfeiture of the beneficiary's interest in the trust. View "Hunter v. Hunter" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court ruling that a prior final circuit court order had a preclusive effect on Appellant's claims regarding her ownership rights in parcels of property, holding that the circuit court did not err. Linda and David were the children of George and Dorothy, who owned properties as tenants in common. After George died, Dorothy executed deeds of gift purporting to convey the properties to Linda. The circuit court voided the purported conveyance. Dorothy then executed deeds of sale regarding the properties, purporting to vest complete fee simple ownership of the properties in Linda. A commissioner concluded that a determination that the deeds of sale from Dorothy conveyed 100 percent fee simple ownership of the properties to Linda was barred by collateral estoppel. After Dorothy died, David filed a complaint asserting that he had an interest in the properties. The circuit court concluded that Linda held a seventy-five percent interest and David a twenty-five percent interest in fee simple absolute in the properties. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in ruling that claim preclusion barred Linda from relitigating her claim of a 100 percent ownership interest in the properties and in determining the ownership of the properties. View "Alexander v. Cobb" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court delegating its final approval of final accountings submitted by a trustee and conservator as provided by statute and directing that the Commissioner of Accounts conduct that approval of the final accountings, holding that the circuit court erred. In a circuit court order, the court ruled that a previous order as not yet final but would become so when the Commissioner filed the approval of the final accounts with the clerk of the circuit court. The Supreme Court dismissed a first appeal without prejudice because the previous order was not a final, appealable order. In a second appeal, the trustee argued that the circuit court erred by adopting a procedure for the review and approval of the final accounts that deprived the beneficiaries of a meaningful opportunity and due process to review and challenge the accountings. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the circuit court erroneously delegated its approval of the final accounts to the Commissioner without a certification that it had made a personal examination of the exceptions. View "Murphy v. Smith" on Justia Law

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In this dispute over what percentage of shares in a company the three children (Children) of Peter Knop (Father) owned the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court ruling that despite Father's intention to make gifts of certified stock to the children, the gifts were never effectually made under Virginia law and that the children were not entitled to relief under the doctrine of equitable estoppel. The family company in this case owned 1,000 acres of land. The shares in the company were owned by Father and Children. The trial court concluded that although Father stated his intention to make gifts of stock to Children for estate planning purposes, those gifts were never effectually made because they were never delivered to Children in the manner required by law. The trial court further denied Children relief under equitable estoppel principles. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because the shares were never delivered to Children, the gifts were not completed; and (2) the record supported the trial court's conclusion that Children were not entitled to relief on their equitable estoppel claim. View "Knop v. Knop" on Justia Law

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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