Articles Posted in Virginia Supreme Court

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Plaintiffs are the estranged great grandchildren of Elsie and legatees to one half of her residuary estate under a will dated 2004 and admitted to probate following Elsie's death in 2010. The defendants are Audrey, Elsie's sister and legatee to the remaining half of her residuary estate, and Elsie’s former neighbors, Toni, Bruce, and Mike. Elsie's will nominated Toni as executrix; Toni and Audrey took possession of significant assets from Elsie during Elsie’s life. Toni and Bruce began providing assistance to Elsie and her husband in 2004 under a contract providing that Toni and Bruce would be paid $500 per week and would receive $8000 for assistance given in the past. The agreement provided that Toni and Bruce would be paid from her estate, rather than during her lifetime. The trial court found that that Toni, while acting as an agent under the power of attorney, did not arrange for Elsie’s assets to pass at death to the defendant, that the assets in question were retitled by Elsie personally. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that Toni was in a confidential relationship with Elsie and the burden was on the defendants to rebut the presumption that the transactions were the result of undue influence. View "Ayers v. Shaffer" on Justia Law

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Appellant retained Law Firm as his counsel in two cases filed against Appellant by his brother. The parties settled. Thereafter, the circuit court (1) ordered Appellant to pay $130,000 to his attorney from proceeds deposited with the circuit court pursuant to the settlement agreement; (2) denied Appellant a jury trial on the attorney's fee issue; and (3) refused to allow an appeal bond pursuant to Va. Code Ann. 8.01-676.1(C), which would have suspended execution of its award. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) had jurisdiction to resolve Law Firm's fee dispute with Appellant; (2) did not err in overruling Appellant's jury trial request; and (3) erred in refusing Appellant's request to post an appeal bond and suspend the award, but because the court's award to Law Firm was proper, the error was harmless. View "Henderson v. Ayres & Hartnett, P.C." on Justia Law

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Carolyn Osman had three sons, all of whom were the beneficiaries of Carolyn's estate and various trusts. Carolyn died in 2009 as a result of her son Michael's actions. Her cause of death was strangulation and blunt force trauma to the head. Michael was found not guilty of first-degree murder for reason of insanity. The executors of Carolyn's estate and co-trustees of the trusts subsequently filed a request for declaratory judgment in the circuit court asking the court to declare that Michael was a "slayer" under Va. Code 55-401. The circuit court found that although Michael was found not guilty by reason of insanity, he was a slayer under section 55-401 and could not share in the proceeds from his mother's estate. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in holding that Michael was a slayer under section 55-401, and that as a result, Michael could not inherit his share of his mother's estate. View "Osman v. Osman" on Justia Law

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At issue in this will contest was whether the circuit court erred in instructing the jury as to the existence of the presumption of testamentary capacity. In this case, the decedent bequeathed her dog and a cash gift for the dog's care to Appellant and bequeathed the remainder of her residuary estate to charity. Appellant contended that, under the facts of this case, the presumption disappeared, and it was error to instruct the jury regarding the presumption. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment, holding (1) the presumption of testamentary capacity does not necessary disappear in the face of evidence to the contrary, and moreover, the circuit court did not rule at the motion to strike that the presumption had been rebutted; and (2) therefore, the circuit court did not err in instructing the jury about the presumption. View "Kiddell v. Labowitz" on Justia Law

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Lloyd Tuttle Jr. appealed the circuit court's judgment holding that execution of a check payable to his wife, Grace Tuttle, excluded the funds from Grace's augmented estate and that therefore Lloyd's written consent or joinder was not required when Grace, before her death, gifted the funds to her son. Lloyd also appealed the circuit court's judgment holding him liable for more than one-half of an indebtedness evidenced by a note executed by him and Grace as co-makers. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Lloyd's check to Grace did not exclude those funds from Grace's augmented estate, and therefore, the circuit court erred by failing to include the funds in Grace's augmented estate; and (2) the circuit court erred by requiring Lloyd to pay more than one-half of the total joint indebtedness, as Lloyd was liable for only one-half of the indebtedness. View "Tuttle v. Webb" on Justia Law

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The Jared and Donna Murayama 1997 Trust sought damages arising from a settlement agreement between the Trust, its trustee Jared Murayama, and two of the defendants, NISC Holdings, LLC and Omen LLC, which transaction included NISC's repurchase of the Trust's voting stock in NISC (the "settlement agreement"). The Trust claimed it was damaged from selling the stock to NISC for substantially less than its fair market value as a result of the Trust's reliance on fraudulent omissions and misrepresentations of Defendants. The circuit court found that the Trust's allegations established that, as a matter of law, the Trust did not reasonably rely upon Defendants' alleged fraudulent omissions and misrepresentations regarding the value of the NISC stock at the time of the settlement. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment sustaining Defendants' demurrer, holding that the circuit court did not err in its judgment based upon both the language of the settlement agreement and the allegations regarding the adversarial relationship between Murayama and the defendants that precipitated the settlement. View "Murayama 1997 Trust v. NISC Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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Nina and her brother Eddie Russell were co-trustees of several family trusts. The trust estate consisted of the interests held by Nina and Eddie as co-trustees in Russell Realty Associates (RRA), which was created by the siblings' father. Nina and Russell disagreed about several matters and conflicts escalated. Eventually, Eddie, individually and as co-trustee, filed a complaint seeking judicial dissolution and winding up of RRA. The circuit court granted Eddie's complaint for dissolution, finding that the economic purpose of RRA was likely to be reasonably frustrated and that the business could no longer practicably operate in conformity with the partnership agreement. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was sufficient evidence to support the circuit court's findings. View "Russell Realty Assocs. v. Russell" on Justia Law

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When Arvid and Lucy Keith were married, Arvid had a son from a previous marriage, Walter Keith (Keith), and Lucy had a daughter, Veronica Lulofs (Lulofs). Arvid and Lucy executed wills in 1987 that were mirror images of each other. Each will left the estate first to the surviving spouse and then to Keith and Lulofs equally. Arvid died in 1996 and his estate passed to Lucy. Lucy then executed a new will 1996 in which she left the entirety of her estate to Lulofs and made no provision for Keith. After Lucy's death, Lulofs attempted to probate Lucy's will, which Keith challenged. The trial court concluded that Keith failed to provide that the 1987 wills executed by Arvid and Lucy were irrevocable, reciprocal wills and accepted Lucy's 1996 will for probate, entering judgment accordingly. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in holding that (1) the wills did not form an irrevocable contract between the testators; and (2) Keith's testimony presenting circumstantial evidence that Arvid and Lucy intended for the wills to be contracts was not corroborated as required by the Dead Man's statute. View "Keith v. Lulofs" on Justia Law

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After the decedent's death, the decedent's daughter probated her 2008 will and qualified as executor for the will. The decedent's remaining children sued the daughter to challenge the will. The trial court ruled that the 2008 will had been impeached and Decedent's 2007 will should proceed to probate, holding (1) Decedent lacked testamentary capacity when she executed her contested will, and (2) the contested will was the result of undue influence. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court erred where (1) the trial court's decision that Decedent lacked testamentary capacity was based on an incorrect view of the law and an improper weighing of the evidence; and (2) the evidence in this case rebutted the presumption of undue influence. Remanded. View "Weedon v. Weedon" on Justia Law

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Judy Maretta, as the named beneficiary of a Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) policy, received FEGLI benefits upon the death of her ex-husband. Jacqueline Hillman, the widow of the deceased, filed an action against Maretta, claiming that pursuant to Va. Code Ann. 20-111.1(D), Maretta was liable to her for the death benefits received. Maretta claimed that the state law was preempted by 5 U.S.C. 8705 and 8705 because the state statutes granted FEGLI benefits to someone other than the named beneficiary in violation of FEGLIA's terms. The circuit court concluded that section 20-111.1(D) was not preempted by FEGLIA and entered judgment against Maretta. The Supreme Court reversed and entered judgment for Maretta, holding that because Congress intended for FEGLI benefits to be paid and to belong to a designated beneficiary, FEGLIA preempts section 20-111.1(D). View "Maretta v. Hillman" on Justia Law