Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
by
In 2016, Great American filed an interpleader action seeking to determine the proper beneficiary of two annuities belonging to decedent. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the daughter (Ava), rejecting the widow and stepson's (Alita and Craig) claims. The Fifth Circuit then determined that material issues of fact existed, vacated the district court's summary judgment in favor of Ava, and remanded the case for trial. While those proceedings were pending, Ava and her sister, Phyllis, filed another suit in 2018 claiming entitlement to other assets belonging to the decedent, including life insurance proceeds, an individual retirement account (IRA), and mineral rights. Both cases were consolidated for trial where the district court again held in favor of Ava and Phyllis.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court's finding of undue influence as to Craig is amply supported by the record; appellants' claim that the district court erred in imposing a requirement that appellants must prove that decedent received independent advice from a disinterested third party before making the beneficiary changes to his policies and accounts is without merit; while the district court did not require evidence relating to disinterested third parties, it did require some form of clear and convincing evidence from which it could conclude that the transfers were decedent's true, untampered, intent; and the district court did not, as appellants, contend, impose a burden of clear and convincing evidence on Alita.The court also concluded that the record is clear that the district court did not award damages based on a theory of unjust enrichment. Rather, the district court awarded damages based on a finding of undue influence on Craig's part. The court further concluded that the district court did not err by imposing joint and several liability on appellants. Finally, in regards to the disposition of real property in Arkansas, the district court did not err in ordering Craig to convey the improperly obtained mineral interests back to Ava and Phyllis. View "Tanner v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs-Appellants Walter “Gil” Goodrich (individually and in his capacity as the executor of his father—Henry Goodrich, Sr.’s— succession), Henry Goodrich, Jr., and Laura Goodrich Watts brought suit against Defendant-Appellee United States of America. Plaintiffs claimed that, in an effort to discharge Henry Sr.’s tax liability, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) wrongfully levied their property, which they had inherited from their deceased mother, Tonia Goodrich, subject to Henry Sr.’s usufruct. A magistrate judge previously determined Plaintiffs were not the owners of money seized by the IRS, and that represented the value of certain liquidated securities. The Fifth Circuit determined that whether Plaintiffs were in fact owners of the disputed funds was an issue governed by Louisiana law. The Fifth Circuit declined further review until the Louisiana Supreme Court had a chance to review the ownership issue in the first instance. View "Goodrich, et al v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Commission issued the Estate a notice of deficiency, determining that the Estate had a $491,750.00 tax liability which differed from the Estate's tax return valuation. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the tax court's decision sustaining the Commission's determinations. The court held that the Estate holds a substituted limited partnership interest in SILP.The court also held that the Notice of Deficiency (including its attachments) fulfills the statutory requirement under 28 U.S.C. 6212. However, even assuming arguendo that the notice description was inadequate, the court could not invalidate it on that basis because Internal Revenue Code 7522(a) explicitly prohibits it from setting aside a notice for lacking the descriptive element. Finally, the court rejected the Estate's argument under the Administrative Procedure Act as without merit. View "Estate of Frank D. Streightoff v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

by
This appeal arose out of disputes related to trusts formed by the late Texas oil baron, H.L. Hunt. At issue was the settlement involving plaintiff, H.L.'s grandson, in which he agreed to not contest the last will and testament of his father in exchange for a nine-figure payout. After his father's death, plaintiff challenged the will in Texas probate court, lost, and appealed. Plaintiff's sisters then asked the federal court to enforce the settlement agreement and to enjoin plaintiff's will challenges, which the district court granted.The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiff's appeal of the injunction was mostly moot, because the Texas appeals court has lost jurisdiction over plaintiff's state appeal and plaintiff has withdrawn his failed will challenges in the probate court. In this case, the terms of the injunction related to those probate proceedings have been irrevocably fulfilled. However, in regard to the terms of the injunction that prohibit plaintiff from challenging his father's will ever again, those terms were not moot. As to those terms, the court held that plaintiff's challenges failed.Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal as to the following, already-fulfilled terms of the injunction: its prohibition on contesting plaintiff's will in the current probate proceedings; its prohibition on appealing the probate court's order regarding the settlement agreement; its prohibition on appealing the probate court's admission of the will; and its obligation to dismiss or withdraw his claims in probate court, including through appeal. The court affirmed the remainder of the order, including the following, future-looking terms of the injunction: its prohibition on contesting plaintiff's will "in any manner," in any court; and its prohibition on "filing, pursuing, or prosecuting any action . . . that violates the terms of the Settlement Agreement or Final Judgment." The court remanded to the district court for consideration of whether the sisters were entitled to additional costs and fees. View "Hill v. Washburne" on Justia Law

by
Payments owed to a shareholder by a bankrupt debtor, which are not quite dividends but which certainly look a lot like dividends, should be treated like the equity interests of a shareholder and subordinated to claims by creditors of the debtor. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that the deemed dividends gave the Estate benefits normally reserved for equity investors and thus subordination of all of the Estate's claims was appropriate. The court also held that the bankruptcy court did not abuse its discretion in denying discovery. Likewise, the court held that the Estate's due process right to discovery was not violated. View "French v. Linn Energy, LLC" on Justia Law