Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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The case revolves around the interpretation of a will and the application of the anti-lapse statute. Heather W. Hossack, the testator, had devised certain assets to her mother, Ethel Wyman, "if she survives me." However, Wyman predeceased Heather. John A. Hossack, Heather's brother, argued that the anti-lapse statute required that the failed devise fall to him. Thomas Gibney, the named beneficiary of the residuary estate, sought a declaration that the phrase "if she survives me" showed Heather's intent to avoid the application of the anti-lapse statute.The case was initially heard in the Essex Division of the Probate and Family Court Department, where the judge allowed summary judgment in favor of Gibney. John appealed the decision, and the Supreme Judicial Court transferred the case from the Appeals Court.The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the lower court. The court held that the phrase "if she survives me" demonstrated Heather's intent to avoid the application of the anti-lapse statute. The court reasoned that Heather had contemplated the possibility of Wyman predeceasing her and had expressly provided for it in the will. Therefore, the anti-lapse statute's presumed intention had to yield to the expressed intention of the testator. The court also noted that the will as a whole supported this conclusion, as it specified that a devisee is only considered to have "survived" Heather if the devisee survives her for at least ninety days. View "Gibney v. Hossack" on Justia Law

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The case at hand involves a dispute over the interpretation of a will left by Robert Pettengill Beckey, who was survived by his three children, Sandra L. Arthur, Angela M. Beckey, and Timothy E. Beckey. The will included specific instructions for dividing real property located at 848 Allen Pond Rd., Greene, ME, among the three children. However, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found that the Probate Court erred in its interpretation of the will, particularly regarding Angela's share.Specifically, Angela's share was described in the will as "1/3 of property located at 848 Allen Pond Rd., minus the valuation of a piece of land on water by property line of 'Caron's'". The Probate Court had ruled that this description was ambiguous and that Angela's share therefore fell into the residue of the estate, to be divided equally among the three children. However, the Supreme Judicial Court found that the ambiguity of the "minus" clause was irrelevant because Robert never conveyed any part of the land to Angela. Therefore, Angela was entitled to a one-third share of the Allen Pond Road property’s value without any reduction.The Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the Probate Court's ruling was not consistent with Robert's intent for his children to receive equal shares of the property's value. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Estate of Robert Pettengill Beckey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia granted a writ of prohibition to defendant Denita D. Berg, preventing the Circuit Court of Grant County from enforcing orders to sell personal property before determining its ownership. The orders were part of a case brought by Denita Berg's stepchildren, who alleged that Berg had not properly inventoried their father's estate after his death and had committed fraud.The Supreme Court's decision was based on the fact that the orders to sell the property were issued despite the existence of genuine issues of material fact about who owned it. The Court explained that the circuit court's order was erroneous as a matter of law because it went beyond the requirements of Rule 56(c) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 56(c) states that summary judgment should only be granted when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the party is entitled to the judgment as a matter of law.The Court concluded that the circuit court had exceeded its legitimate powers by ordering the sale of the property when ownership was still in dispute. Therefore, it granted a writ of prohibition, as moulded, to preclude the circuit court from ordering the sale of the disputed property. View "State of West Virginia ex rel. Berg v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Louisiana was asked to decide if the Council of the City of New Orleans ("Council") had the legal standing to institute a lawsuit against various parties, including the Mayor of New Orleans, relating to the assets of the Edward Wisner Trust. The Council had challenged a 2020 agreement, which it alleged illegally disposed of public property and modified the trust without its oversight or input. The issue arose when the defendants filed an exception of lack of procedural capacity, arguing that the Council did not have the authority to institute the lawsuit. The trial court denied the exception, but the Court of Appeal reversed the decision, leading to an appeal to the Supreme Court.The Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal, holding that the Council did have the procedural capacity to bring the lawsuit. The court based its decision on its interpretation of the Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans ("HRC"), which indicated that the Council, as an independent entity distinct from the executive branch, had the legal capacity to function independently and to institute suits as necessary for the protection of the city's rights and interests. The court also considered the longstanding custom of the Council participating in litigation both as plaintiff and defendant. Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded that the Council had the legal standing to bring the lawsuit, and remanded the case to the Court of Appeal for further proceedings. View "THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS VS. EDWARD WISNER DONATION" on Justia Law

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A case in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania involved a dispute over the termination of a charitable trust. The trust was established by Richard H. Wells in 1965 for the sole benefit of his alma mater, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), with the Virginia Military Institute Foundation (the “Foundation”) named as the beneficiary. Since its inception, the Trust has been managed by an independent corporate trustee, PNC Bank. The Foundation sought to terminate the Trust and receive the assets outright, arguing that it could manage the Trust with fewer expenses and higher returns.The lower courts denied the termination, concluding that the burdens of the Trust did not meet the statutory criteria for termination under Section 7740.3(e) of the Uniform Trust Act. The Foundation appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, arguing that the lower courts erroneously considered Wells’ intent to create a trust, which the Foundation claimed was not relevant under the statute.The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the lower courts’ decision. The court held that the Foundation failed to satisfy the statutory standard under Section 7740.3(e) of the Uniform Trust Act, which requires a showing that the administrative expenses or other burdens of the trust are unreasonably out of proportion to the charitable benefits. The court concluded that the expenses and burdens of the trust, including an annual excise tax and mandatory annual distribution under the Private Foundation Rules of the Internal Revenue Code, were not unreasonably out of proportion to the trust's charitable benefits. View "In Re: Trust B of Wells; Apl of: V.M.I. Foundation" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Christopher O’Donnell, as the personal representative of the estate of Erica J. O’Donnell, appealed a judgment from the York County Probate Court. The court had approved a referee's report regarding the distribution of the estate. O’Donnell contested several aspects of the report, including the application of the intestacy succession provisions of Title 18-A of the Maine Revised Statutes to Erica J. O’Donnell's estate and the court’s decision to adopt the referee's report without holding a hearing on O’Donnell's amended objection.The Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower court's judgment. The court concluded that the intestacy succession provisions of Title 18-A, not Title 18-C, applied because Erica J. O’Donnell died before the effective date of Title 18-C. The court also rejected O’Donnell's argument that he was deprived of a hearing on the referee’s report, finding that a hearing was held after the referee's report and O’Donnell's objections were received. The court ruled that O’Donnell's amended objection lacked the required level of specificity to preserve his objection to the plan of distribution. View "Estate of Erica J. O'Donnell" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, the only child of the decedent, filed a lawsuit against the defendant, the decedent's second husband, for tortious interference with the plaintiff’s expected inheritance. The decedent had left her estate to the defendant and disinherited the plaintiff in her will. After her death, the defendant applied to have the will admitted to probate, which the plaintiff contested on several grounds, including undue influence. The Probate Court rejected the plaintiff's claims and admitted the will to probate. The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, where the appeal was set for a de novo trial. The defendant moved for summary judgment in the tort action, asserting that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment.The defendant appealed the partial denial of his motion for summary judgment to the Appellate Court. The court dismissed the appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that there was no appealable final judgment. Upon certification, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Appellate Court.The Supreme Court held that the Appellate Court improperly dismissed the defendant’s appeal from the trial court’s partial denial of his motion for summary judgment. The court reasoned that the trial court correctly rejected the defendant’s collateral estoppel claim, although on different grounds. The Supreme Court explained that the Probate Court's decision regarding the plaintiff’s undue influence claim had no force in the probate appeal because the trial court, conducting a trial de novo, would decide on the undue influence claim without regard to the Probate Court’s findings or rulings. Therefore, the Probate Court decree did not have the necessary attributes of finality to warrant the application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Appellate Court with direction to affirm the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and to direct the trial court to conduct further proceedings. View "O'Sullivan v. Haught" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Montana was presiding over a dispute regarding the reimbursement claim of Angela Mastrovito from the Estate of Rebekah Barsotti. Mastrovito, the mother of the deceased Rebekah Barsotti, had served as her court-appointed guardian after Rebekah went missing and was presumed dead following a reported drowning accident. Mastrovito filed a claim for $140,688.45 in expenses she allegedly incurred during her guardianship, including costs for rent, legal fees, meals, travel, and others. The claim was opposed by Rebekah's husband, David Barsotti, who was appointed as the personal representative of Rebekah's estate.The District Court denied Mastrovito's claim for three reasons: her appointment as a guardian was retroactively improper due to Rebekah's death, the claimed expenditures were unreasonable, and the claim lacked sufficient substantiation. Mastrovito appealed this decision, arguing that her appointment was not improper and that she was denied a fair hearing to present evidence in support of her claim.Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the District Court's denial of the claim. The court reasoned that even if Mastrovito's appointment was proper, she still failed to provide sufficient support for her claim. The court concluded that a hearing could not change the fact that Mastrovito's claim was facially insufficient. The court underscored the need for providing supporting evidence to determine the validity and reasonableness of claimed costs. View "In re Estate of Barsotti" on Justia Law

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This Rhode Island Supreme Court case revolves around a dispute over an estate and a related legal fee. The plaintiff, Ambrose C. Mendes, Jr., challenged an order and judgment of the Superior Court that approved two Providence Probate Court accountings and closed the estate of his late father, Ambrose Mendes, Sr. Additionally, he contested an order that granted opposing counsel’s motion for attorneys’ fees. Mr. Mendes argued that the trial justice denied him his right to a jury trial.The court noted that Mr. Mendes and his siblings had been in litigation for over a decade over the administration of their father's estate and their dispute with the defendant, Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum Attorneys at Law, Inc. During a court hearing, Mr. Mendes agreed on record to a settlement, but later changed his mind and refused to sign the written agreement memorializing the settlement. He then filed a notice of appeal.The court held that Mr. Mendes's on-record agreement in court demonstrated his intention to be bound by the terms of the settlement. As a result, he had waived his ability to contest the acceptance of the accountings, the closing of the estate, or the decision to deny him a jury trial.However, the court vacated the trial justice’s order awarding attorney’s fees to the defendant. The court decided that the trial justice lacked jurisdiction to award attorney’s fees because, once an appeal had been docketed in this court, the lower court was divested of jurisdiction and lacked the authority to act in the case. Thus, the court affirmed the Superior Court’s order and judgment approving the accountings and closing the estate, but vacated the decision awarding the defendant attorney’s fees. View "Mendes v. Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the trial court's decision to reform an irrevocable trust to reflect the original intent of the settlor. The settlor, Elton G. Beebe Sr., created a trust in 1992 with the aim of providing lifetime benefits to 16 named individuals. However, he claimed that a scrivener’s error in the trust document led to a misunderstanding about the distribution of the trust's assets upon the death of the last named beneficiary. The trust document stated that the assets would be distributed to the descendants of all 16 beneficiaries, but Beebe claimed that his intention was for the assets to be distributed to his own lineal descendants.The trial court found that the settlor provided clear and convincing evidence of his original intent and the mistake in the trust document. It reformed the termination provision of the trust to reflect the settlor's intent. The decision was appealed by several parties who were not in agreement with the reformation.The Supreme Court upheld the trial court's decision, finding that there was sufficient evidence to prove that the termination provision in the trust was a mistake of expression that did not reflect Beebe's intent at the time the trust was created. The court did not find any abuse of discretion in the trial court's finding. View "In the Matter of the Elton G. Beebe, Sr. Irrevocable Family Mortgage Trust v. Family Management, Inc." on Justia Law