Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's entry of summary judgment concluding that Robert Bohling's father left a valid will, holding that there was no merit to any of Robert's assignments of error.When Willis Bohling (Bohling) died, he left a self-proved will. His daughter, Kimberly Bohling, initiated informal probate proceedings and was appointed the personal representative of Bohling's estate. Robert objected and filed a petition seeking dismissal of the informal probate application and requesting a determination of intestacy, a determination of heirs, and appointment of a special administrator. Kimberly moved for summary judgment, arguing that the will was valid and should be admitted to probate. The district court granted summary judgment for Kimberly. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Robert's arguments on appeal were without merit. View "Bohling v. Bohling" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court in this trust and estate dispute, holding that, under certain circumstances, a party may assert a claim for intentional interference with inheritance.A dozen years after the decedent's death, his children sued David Rudd - the attorney who represented the decedent in various matters - and Ballard Spahr, LLP - the law firm where Rudd was a partner - claiming that Defendants improperly influenced the decedent to amend his will and trust in a way that shifted a portion of the children's expected inheritance to other beneficiaries, engaged in improper and/or misleading conduct, and mishandled estate assets after the decedent's death. On appeal were the district court's grant of (1) Defendants' motion to dismiss the children's claim for intentional interference with inheritance, (2) summary judgment on several tort claims the children wanted to assert on behalf of the decedent's estate, and (3) a motion in limine preventing the children from impeaching Rudd with certain statements. The Supreme Court held that the district court (1) erred in dismissing the intentional interference with inheritance claim; (2) did not err by not assigning the estate's claims to the children; and (3) erred in granting the motion in limine. View "In re Estate of D.A. Osguthorpe, D.V.M." on Justia Law

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A Mississippi chancery court order set aside the probate of a will after the original was lost. On appeal, Michael Taylor, the sole beneficiary under the lost will, contended that the chancellor erred by applying the presumption that the testatrix had destroyed the will. “Without the entry of a Rule 54(b) certificate, a trial court order which disposes of less than all of the claims against all of the parties in a multiple party or multiple claim action, is interlocutory.” The Mississippi Supreme Court determined the order appealed from was not a final judgment, thus it lacked jurisdiction to consider Taylor's appeal. The appeal was dismissed. View "Taylor v. Tolbert" on Justia Law

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Linda and her husband Milton set up an estate plan with the help of attorney Roth. Milton created a trust and designated himself as sole trustee. Upon his death, Linda and his accountant, Sanders, would become cotrustees. Milton’s assets included a $1.5 million Vanguard account. Milton later changed the Vanguard account and other accounts to transfer on death directly to Linda as the sole primary beneficiary. Milton died in 2016. Linda believed that Roth was still her attorney. Roth and Sanders convinced Linda to waive her rights as co-trustee and to disclaim her interest in the Vanguard account; they suggested that she had acquired these interests through wrongdoing. Roth then transferred the disclaimed Vanguard account directly to Milton’s son, David, instead of to the trust. David sued Linda and obtained an Indiana state court judgment that she exerted undue influence on Milton and that the trust was the proper owner of certain assets Milton had transferred to Linda.Linda sued in federal court, asserting fraud, conspiracy, and malpractice against Roth and Sanders, claiming the two “duped” her into disclaiming certain assets and that Roth committed malpractice by transferring the account to David rather than the trust. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit; issue preclusion based on the Indiana judgment foreclosed Linda’s claims because the Indiana jury’s finding of undue influence showed that Roth and Sanders’s advice to disclaim her illegally-obtained interests was neither negligent nor fraudulent. View "Bergal v. Roth" on Justia Law

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James Conway Liner, III (“Mr. Liner”) executed two notarial testaments: one in 2013 and another in 2015 (purporting to revoke all prior testaments). The 2013 testament, executed pursuant to La. C.C. art. 1577 for testators who were able to read and sign their name, divided Mr. Liner’s property equally amongst his three children: James Conway Liner, IV (“Conway”), Jeffrey Liner (“Jeff”), and Laura Liner Centola (“Laura”). The 2015 testament excluded Conway from any inheritance and was executed pursuant to La. C.C. art. 1579 for a testator who was unable to read regardless of whether they can sign their own name. Mr. Liner died in 2018. Jeff and Laura filed a petition to probate the 2015 testament. Conway intervened and sought to have the 2015 testament declared null under various theories including an allegedly defective attestation clause. As it was at the original hearing, the primary issue presented was whether the attestation clause verifying that Mr. Liner declared he “signed” the testament was substantially similar to the La. C.C. art. 1579 requirement that the attestation clause verify a testator declared he signed his name “at the end” and “on each other separate page” of the testament. The Louisiana Supreme Court also addressed Conway’s additional arguments as to whether the attestation clause reflected an inconsistency in the notary both following and reading the testament and whether the attestation clause failed to establish that Mr. Liner declared he heard the reading of the will in the presence of the notary and the witnesses. Following a careful review of the law, the Supreme Court vacated its original decree in this case, affirmed the decision of the court of appeal (reversed the trial court's nullification of the 2015 testament), and clarified the analytical framework for determining whether a notarial will is in substantial compliance with the provisions of the Civil Code. View "Succession of James Conway Liner, III" on Justia Law

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Two appeals arose from a dispute between four siblings about the management of trusts set up by their parents. The siblings -- Lenn Rainwater ("Lenn"), Charles Edward Rainwater ("Charles"), Jean Rainwater Loggins, and Mary Rainwater Breazeale -- executed a settlement agreement resolving their dispute. In appeal no. 1190952, the parties petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court to consider whether that agreement should have been declared void. Lenn also sought to garnish trust assets that she says were hers. In appeal no. 1190951, the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether those garnishment proceedings should have been quashed. The Court ultimately did not reach either of those issues because both appeals should been dismissed: appeal no. 1190952 was filed too late and appeal no. 1190951 was filed too soon. View "Lem Harris Rainwater Family Trust et al. v. Rainwater" on Justia Law

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Damon Stephens appealed a circuit court order ordering that certain property located on Old Railroad Bed Road in Toney, ("the property"), be partitioned by sale, pursuant to the Alabama Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act ("the Heirs Act"). In September 2017, Michael Claridy filed a complaint to quiet title to the property and requested that the circuit court partition the property by sale on the basis that the property could not be equitably divided or partitioned in kind. Stephens acquired his interest in the property in 2019; he has neither lived on the property nor paid taxes on the property. Stephens stated that he had lived on the property and made improvements to some of the buildings there. Following an initial hearing, the circuit court determined that the property was heirs property governed by the Heirs Act. Based on the testimony, the evidentiary materials, and the judge's personal observation of the property, the circuit court concluded that there was no method by which the property could be partitioned in kind to adequately preserve each cotenant's interest in the property. Accordingly, the circuit court entered a detailed judgment ordering that the property be partitioned by sale via public auction. Stephens contended the circuit court erred by ordering a partition by sale because, he contended, the court considered only one factor in its analysis, provided no discussion of the other factors, and provided no analysis regarding whether any particular cotenant would be greatly prejudiced by a partition in kind. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's order. View "Stephens v. Claridy" on Justia Law

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In this litigation between the beneficiaries and trustees of two trusts the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court granting the trustees' petition for their services and expenses, including attorneys' fees incurred on behalf of the trusts and interest owed on those fees, holding that there was no error.The trial justice determined that the trustees were entitled to be indemnified for their attorneys' fees after considering the beneficiaries' arguments against payment of attorneys' fees. The court then entered judgment stating that reasonable attorneys fees were to be indemnified by the trust, that an unpaid balance remained, and that interest on the attorneys' fees would accrue through the conclusion of any appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the beneficiaries' argument that the trustees should not be awarded fees for pursuing their own fees was waived; and (2) the trial justice properly awarded interest as an expense reasonably incurred in the administration of the trust. View "Kumble v. Voccola" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed an order of the district court affirming an administrative law judge's proposed order that trust principal consisting of a jointly owned home constituted a countable asset for the purpose of the Medicaid eligibility of Marilyn Scheidecker, holding that there were no circumstances under which payment from the trust's corpus could be made for Marilyn's benefit.The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services denied Marilyn's application for Medicaid, concluding that Marilyn's one-half interest in the trust's principal was a countable resource placing her over Medicaid's resource limit. The ALJ upheld the denial. The district court affirmed the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that the trust was a countable asset pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1396p(d)(3), holding that circumstances existed by which payments form the trust's corpus could be made to or for Marilyn's benefit. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court was incorrect in its application of the federal statute. View "Estate of Scheidecker v. Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against PNC Bank and PNC Investments for mishandling an investment account that belonged to plaintiff and her deceased mother. The district court sua sponte ordered briefing on the probate exception to federal diversity jurisdiction, concluded that plaintiff was "attempting to circumvent the normal probate process by bringing an individual claim against PNC Bank," and dismissed the case. The district court also held that plaintiff had no standing to sue.The Eleventh Circuit reversed, concluding that neither the probate exception nor standing doctrine divests the district court of jurisdiction over this lawsuit. The court concluded that the district court erred in dismissing the case under the probate exception because it can adjudicate her claims for damages against PNC without probating her mother's will, administering the estate, or disposing of the estate's property. The court also concluded that plaintiff is the real party in interest and has standing to bring her claims. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Fisher v. PNC Bank, N.A." on Justia Law