Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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Wife Becky Baldauf, in both her personal capacity and as administrator of her deceased husband’s estate, appealed the superior court’s order dismissing her claims against the Vermont State Treasurer and the Vermont State Employees’ Retirement System (VSERS) (collectively, the State). Wife argued she was entitled to receive a retirement allowance on account of her husband’s death while in active service under 3 V.S.A. 465. She also argued the State failed to adequately inform husband about his retirement allowance before his death, and accordingly, husband’s estate was entitled to relief under breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligent misrepresentation theories. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded Wife failed to state claims for which relief can be granted, and affirmed. View "Estate of Ronald Baldauf v. Vermont State Treasurer et al." on Justia Law

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Daughter Deborah George appealed the civil division’s determination that her father, decedent Theodore George, was the sole owner of a vehicle at the time of his death and that the vehicle was properly included in his estate. Decedent purchased the vehicle at issue, a 1979 Cadillac Eldorado, in 1992. The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued a Certificate of Title to decedent in 1994 in his name only. The copy of the title in the record contained no assignment of ownership to daughter. In 2006, decedent submitted a Vermont Registration, Tax, and Title Application to the DMV. Decedent’s name was listed in the space provided for the owner, and daughter’s name was listed in the adjacent space provided for a co-owner. Next to daughter’s name, a handwritten annotation said, “add co-owner.” The form directed applicants to select rights of survivorship if more than one owner was listed and provides that “if no box is checked joint tenants will be selected.” Decedent made no indication. At the bottom of the form, decedent signed the application; the line for the co-owner’s signature was left blank. No bill of sale accompanied the 2006 Registration Application. The DMV issued registration certificates naming both decedent and daughter for 2012-2013, 2014-2015, and 2017-2018. On appeal of the civil division's determination, daughter argued that decedent’s act in changing the registration to reflect joint ownership effectively transferred an interest in the vehicle to her. Alternatively, she argued that decedent’s act demonstrated his intent to make a gift of joint ownership. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded there was insufficient evidence that decedent transferred an interest in the vehicle to daughter under either theory and affirmed. View "In re Estate of Theodore George" on Justia Law

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Appellant Susan Inouye challenged the probate division's allowance of her mother's most recent will. Testator was ninety-two years old and a resident of Windsor County, Vermont when she died in 2016. Testator previously lived in Arizona and was married to John Walter McHugo. They had three children together before their divorce in 1978. In 1997, testator and her ex-husband each executed a will in Arizona. Each will provided for the establishment of a testamentary trust for the support of the other former spouse during their lifetime, and provided for the remaining assets to be divided equally among the three children after both former spouses have died. In 2006, while living in Montpelier, Vermont, testator executed another will revoking the 1997 will. The 2006 will divided most of testator’s estate between two of her children, who were the appellees in this case. It excluded testator’s ex-husband and third child, Susan Inouye. Testator’s ex- husband predeceased her in 2010. Appellant argued that this will was executed in violation of a prior contract for mutual wills, and that it therefore should not have been allowed for probate administration. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the will was properly allowed, but that a contract for mutual wills may be enforced through a breach-of-contract claim. The Court therefore affirmed the probate division’s decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Estate of Patricia Bixby McHugo (Susan Inouye, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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Petitioner and respondent were siblings and the children of the donor of the trusts at issue in this case. Both the donor and his wife were deceased. Respondent and a bank were co-trustees of the trusts. In June 2018, petitioner asked the probate division to remove respondent as the individual family trustee of the trusts and appoint petitioner’s wife as respondent’s successor. Petitioner asserted that removal of the individual family trustee would improve administration of the trust. He cited as bases for removal the noncommunicative relationship between him and respondent and respondent’s lack of attention to the investment performance of the trusts. Petitioner appealed the civil division’s determination that it lacked jurisdiction to consider his appeal of the probate division’s dismissal of his petition to remove respondent as trustee. After review of the specific facts presented on appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the civil division’s reasoning but transferred petitioner’s appeal to itself and remanded for further proceedings in the probate division on the petition for removal of trustee. View "In re Peter Val Preda Trusts" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Willis S. Sheldon, individually as the father of Dezirae Sheldon, and as administrator of the Estate of Dezirae Sheldon, appealed the grant of summary judgment to defendant Nicholas Ruggiero, an administrative reviewer with the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF). Plaintiffs argued that defendant negligently failed to report an allegation that Dezirae’s stepfather Dennis Duby abused Dezirae, eventually leading to Dezirae’s murder at Duby’s hands. Plaintiffs presented alternative theories for defendant’s liability under: (1) Vermont’s mandated-reporter statute, which they argued created a private right of action; (2) common-law negligence; or (3) negligent undertaking. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that even if the mandated-reporter statute creates a private right of action, or alternatively, even if defendant had a common-law duty to report suspected abuse, plaintiffs’ negligent-undertaking claim failed because defendant acted reasonably and prudently in his role as a DCF administrative reviewer. In addition, the Court concluded that defendant never undertook DCF’s statutory obligation to investigate all potential sources of Dezirae’s injuries. View "Sheldon v. Ruggiero" on Justia Law

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A husband died, naming his niece and nephew as beneficiaries to his Individual Retirement Account, rather than his wife. The wife declaratory judgment action, arguing that the beneficiary designation should be declared void under 14 V.S.A. 321 and that the IRA funds should pass through husband’s estate. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, concluding for several reasons that wife was not entitled to relief under section 321. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that section 321 did not apply here because wife took under husband’s will rather than electing her statutory share of his estate. View "Hayes v. Hayes" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Michele Boulet appealed the trial court’s decision to dismiss her petition for modification of the guardianship of C.H. In 2017, petitioner petitioned for modification of the guardianship of C.H., a developmentally disabled adult who has had a guardian since 2009. C.H.’s first guardian, a member of her immediate family, was removed in 2015 after being substantiated for financial exploitation of C.H. The Commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living (DAIL) was subsequently appointed as C.H.’s guardian. Petitioner was a friend of C.H.’s family. Shortly after petitioner filed her petition for modification of guardianship, C.H. moved to dismiss through counsel to dismiss on grounds that petitioner did not have standing to petition the court for modification of C.H.’s guardianship. In October 2017, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss, deciding, in accordance with C.H.’s argument, that petitioner lacked standing to petition for modification of the guardianship. The trial court did not hold an evidentiary hearing on either the petition for modification or the motion to dismiss. Petitioner raised several arguments in favor of reinstating her petition; as one of her arguments resolved this appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court addressed it alone. The Supreme Court held that the trial court’s interpretation of the statute defining who has standing to petition for a modification of guardianship was inconsistent with the plain language and purpose of Vermont’s guardianship provisions. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Guardianship of C.H." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a dispute between Taylor Glaze, a surviving niece of Emil Kuhling, and Emil Kuhling’s Estate (Estate) over two agreements between Taylor and Emil: one concerning the transfer of Emil’s home and another about Emil’s life care. Following a bench trial, the court concluded that Taylor owed and breached a fiduciary duty to Emil regarding the sale of Emil’s home and awarded damages but concluded there was no breach of the life-care contract. Taylor appealed both decisions, arguing the Estate lacked standing to assert the breach-of-duty and breach-of-contract claims. The Estate cross-appealed the court’s determination regarding a contractual agreement for life care between Taylor and Emil. Because the Vermont Supreme Court concluded there was no breach of any fiduciary duty by Taylor regarding the sale of the house, it reversed the award to the Estate and remand to the trial court to enter judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s determination regarding the life-care contract. View "Estate of Emil Kuhling v. Glaze" on Justia Law

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Allen Avery (testator) died testate in 2008 and left property to his spouse and children. His spouse, children, and the executor of the estate disputed how the estate’s administrative expenses should have been allocated. The civil division determined that expenses should be paid out of spouse’s share of the personal estate until paid in full or until they exhaust her share, and that children’s share of the personalty should contribute to administrative expenses only if spouse’s share of the personalty is insufficient. Spouse appealed. Finding no error in that judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Avery v. Estate of Allen D. Avery" on Justia Law

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Allen Avery (testator) died testate in 2008 and left property to his spouse and children. His spouse, children, and the executor of the estate disputed how the estate’s administrative expenses should have been allocated. The civil division determined that expenses should be paid out of spouse’s share of the personal estate until paid in full or until they exhaust her share, and that children’s share of the personalty should contribute to administrative expenses only if spouse’s share of the personalty is insufficient. Spouse appealed. Finding no error in that judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Avery v. Estate of Allen D. Avery" on Justia Law