Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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Two cases were consolidated for review. In the first, Amanda Boyd and George Ben Ratcliff Jr. (George Ben Jr.) filed a complaint challenging an inter vivos gift of real property to Patricia Smith, which ended in the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Smith. Boyd and George Ben Jr. appeal the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in Smith’s favor. In the second, the trial court granted summary judgment to Patricia Smith in a will contest filed by Boyd and her brother George Ben Jr. The trial court granted summary judgment pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 91-7-23 (Rev. 2018), which provides a two- year statute of limitations to contest a probated will. Finding no reversible error in either case, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court. View "Boyd v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Appellant William Pullen appealed the family court’s denial of his Family Code section 2030 motion to compel respondent Windham Bremer, the trustee of the Elizabeth Anne Wendt Trust, to pay his attorney fees stemming from his successful motion to join the trustee as a third party to the dissolution action involving Pullen and his ex-wife Elizabeth Anne Wendt. Pullen contended the family court’s ruling was an abuse of discretion as it was based on legal error, and that it effectively precluded him from further litigating the matter. Bremer counters that under California law, a trustee could not be compelled to disburse money absent a showing of bad faith. He argued that Pullen’s claim was subject to Probate Code restrictions on claims against spendthrift trusts. He also claims that payment was barred under Indiana and Illinois law, and that appellant’s underlying claim was specious. The California Court of Appeal surmised the question presented involved the administration of the trust rather than interpreting its terms, Indiana law might apply, and Illinois law was inapplicable. "However, choice of law is immaterial as both Indiana and California follow the modern interpretation regarding the liability of trusts and trustees to third parties. This modern approach allows third parties to obtain relief from the trust for matters arising out of the trust’s administration, and is not limited by spendthrift provisions." The Court found section 2030 provided for the award of attorney fees against parties other than spouses, like the trustee. Since the award of attorney fees stemmed from the administration of the trust and did not involve a claim against the beneficiary, payment from a spendthrift trust was not contingent on the bad faith of the trustee. It was an abuse of discretion for the family court to make the award of fees contingent on such a showing and its judgment was reversed and remanded for additional proceedings. View "Marriage of Wendt and Pullen" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff John Dunlap was the executor of the New York estate (Estate) of Josephine Mayer, who passed away in 2016. Josephine was the lifetime beneficiary of a testamentary trust (Marital Trust) established by Josephine’s husband, Erwin Mayer. The Estate petitioned the trustee of the Marital Trust, defendant Maria Mayer, for an accounting. Maria objected to the petition, alleging that she was never a trustee of the Marital Trust and that she never had possession or control of the assets of the trust. The court dismissed the petition at a case management conference, without an evidentiary hearing to resolve the contested facts. The Court of Appeal concluded the court abused its discretion in doing so, and therefore reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dunlap v. Mayer" on Justia Law

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Two defendants in a wrongful death suit settled with the decedent’s estate, resulting in a recovery for her minor child’s benefit. The estate’s attorney received payment from the settlement, but the remaining funds were reserved against potential fee awards to the remaining defendants should they prevail in the ongoing litigation. The estate appealed, arguing the remainder of the funds should have been immediately disbursed for the child’s benefit. The non-settling defendants cross-appealed, arguing that the entire settlement fund should have been reserved for their recoverable costs and fees. Because the prevailing defendants would have no other source from which to recover expenses, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s reservation of settlement funds. But because the Supreme Court construed the common fund doctrine to apply, it also affirmed the court’s distribution of the estate’s attorney’s fees and costs. View "Doan v. Banner Health Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Terry Weems, as the personal representative of the estate of Terry Sutherland ("Terry"), deceased, the proponent of what was purported to be the will of Terry's mother, Gladys Elizabeth Stidham Sutherland ("Elizabeth"), appealed a probate court judgment entered in favor of Terry's siblings, Angela Long and Gary Sutherland, who contested that purported will. Elizabeth died in 2016. Angela petitioned to admit to probate a will her mother executed in 2002 which divided Elizabeth's property equally among her three children. The 2002 will named Angela as the executor of the estate. Shortly thereafter, Terry petitioned the probate court to enter an order admitting a different will to probate that, he said, Elizabeth had executed in 2013 ("the 2013 will"); he also requested that the probate court issue letters testamentary to him as the executor of Elizabeth's estate. That will revoked "all prior wills and codicils" and named Terry as the executor of the estate. In August 2016, Angela petitioned the circuit court to remove the "administration" of Elizabeth's estate from probate court. In October 2017, after determining that its jurisdiction had not been properly invoked, the circuit court issued an order remanding the proceedings relating to Elizabeth's estate back to the probate court. Thereafter, the probate court entered an order acknowledging receipt of the proceedings from the circuit court. In September 2018, Terry died and Terry Weems was appointed to be the personal representative of his estate. At the time of Terry's death, neither the 2002 will nor the 2013 will had been admitted to probate and letters testamentary had not been issued. In 2019, the probate court received testimony and evidence from the parties, and issued an order finding that the procurement and execution of the 2013 will was unduly influenced by Terry. It also admitted the 2002 will to probate and issued letters testamentary to Angela. Thereafter, Weems appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, finding that the probate court was required to transfer the contest after a demand to transfer was made; without it, the court had no jurisdiction to hold a hearing or to issue its order. Because the probate court lacked jurisdiction in this case, its judgment was void. View "Weems v. Long et al." on Justia Law

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Meg Jamison ("Meg"), individually and as next friend of her husband, John W. Jamison III ("John"), sought a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Probate Court to set aside its order automatically renewing temporary letters of guardianship and conservatorship regarding John. The Alabama Supreme Court recognized that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted trials in all courts, including the probate court, and it appreciated the constraints the pandemic placed on all courts to process cases in a timely manner. "This does not, however, excuse the probate court from acting in accordance with the strictures of 26-2A-107(a). Moreover, the probate court issued automatically renewing temporary-guardianship and temporary-conservatorship orders even before the pandemic. Accordingly, the probate court's May 20, 2020, order violated 26-2A-107(a)." The mandamus petition was granted, and the probate court was directed to set aside its automatic renewal appointing a temporary guardian. View "Ex parte Meg Jamison." on Justia Law

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Cases consolidated for review by the Idaho Supreme Court were appeals of three separate judgments ejecting three non-beneficiary parties from the property of an estate. The personal representative of the Estate of Victoria H. Smith (“the Estate”) brought three separate ejectment actions against the Law Office of Vernon K. Smith, LLC, and Vernon K. Smith Law, PC (collectively “VK Law”); David R. Gibson; and Vernon K. Smith, III (“Vernon III”), after each party refused his demands to vacate their respectively occupied properties. None of the parties were beneficiaries of the Estate. The district courts granted partial judgment on the pleadings in favor of the personal representative in all three actions, entering separate judgments ejecting Gibson, Vernon III, and VK Law from the Estate’s properties. On appeal, Appellants raised numerous issues relating to the personal representative’s authority to eject them from the properties. Ford Elsaesser, the personal representative of the Estate, argued on appeal that the district courts did not err in granting partial judgment on the pleadings because he had sufficient power over Estate property to bring an ejectment action on the Estate’s behalf. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Elsaesser v. Gibson" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to determine whether the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine could be invoked by a trustee to prevent the disclosure to a beneficiary of communications between the trustee and counsel pertaining to attorney fees expended from a trust corpus. To reach that issue, the Court had to first address the question of whether the Superior Court erred in disclaiming jurisdiction on the basis that the trial court’s order rejecting the privilege claim was not a collateral order, and immediately reviewable as such. The Supreme Court held unanimously that the Superior Court had immediate appellate jurisdiction to review the privilege question on the merits, and therefore erred in concluding otherwise. As to the privilege issue itself, the Superior Court indicated that, notwithstanding its perceived lack of jurisdiction, there was no evidence by which to substantiate a claim of privilege on the merits, nor any argument presented to the trial court in support thereof. For those reasons, the court was left to conclude that the privilege was unavailable under the circumstances and that the communications at issue were subject to disclosure. The Supreme Court did not reach a consensus on whether the privilege may be invoked in the trust context. Because disclosure would nevertheless result from the competing positions set forth by a majority of Justices, the lower court’s alternative ruling was affirmed by operation of law. View "In Re: Estate of McAleer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant, as trustee of the Trust of Anna H. Blankstein, and dismissing Plaintiff's complaint for an accounting pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws 18-13-15(b), holding that Plaintiff was not entitled to relief.Plaintiff, the beneficiary of the Trust of Anna H. Blankstein, brought this action requesting an accounting pursuant to the Rhode Island Uniform Custodial Trust Act (RIUCTA). Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that, by its terms, the trust was not a custodial trust, and therefore, Plaintiff was not entitled to an accounting of the trust. The trial justice granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Blankstein did not create a custodial trust because the trust did not meet the requirements set forth in RIUCTA; and (2) Plaintiff did not have standing as the administrator of the estate to request an accounting. View "Shorr v. Harris" on Justia Law

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A dispute arose concerning control over a deceased individual's remains. The trial court ruled that testimony regarding Decedent's purchase of a burial plot and gravestone in 1966 was adequate evidence of a written document instructing the method and manner of handling his remains as outlined in 21 O.S. 2011 section 1158(1). In furtherance of this finding, the trial court entered a ruling compelling the surviving spouse, who was appointed as personal representative, to bury Decedent's body. The personal representative appealed, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order granting injunctive relief. The Supreme Court held the Movants failed to present sufficient evidence of a document executed by the Decedent that satisfied the requirements of section 1158(1). View "In the Matter of the Estate of Downing" on Justia Law