Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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Ball Healthcare Services, Inc. ("Ball Healthcare"), appealed a circuit court order denying its motion to compel arbitration in Ledell Flennory's wrongful-death suit against it. Because the Alabama Supreme Court determined Flennory did not meet his burden of rebutting Ball Healthcare's evidence that an enforceable arbitration agreement existed, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ball Healthcare Services, Inc. v. Flennory" on Justia Law

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In this case involving the extent of a a trustee's duties and powers concerning litigation challenging trust amendments the Supreme Court held that the subject trustee had the power to defend the litigation and that the court of appeals erred by applying N.C. Gen. Stat. 31-36, a statute applicable to will caveats, to this trust proceeding.Plaintiffs brought this litigation seeking to set aside certain amendments to a Trust created by the decedent. Plaintiffs sought relief against the trustee, Goldman Sachs Trust Co., N.A., for what they claimed were invalid distributions to defendant beneficiaries. Defendant beneficiaries sought an order directing Goldman Sachs to pay them the costs of defending the Trust, after which one plaintiff filed a motion to "Freeze Administration of Revocable Trust Until Beneficiaries Are Determined or...to Pay Defense Costs for All Purported Beneficiaries." The trial court granted the motions to pay. The court of appeals reversed and remanded to the trial court for entry of an order allowing the motion to freeze. The Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not err by instructing Goldman Sachs to pay defendant beneficaries' litigation expenses as distributions in this action; and (2) a duty to defend under N.C. Gen. Stat. 36C-8-811 arises only when the action may result in a loss to the trust estate. View "Wing v. Goldman Sachs Trust Co., N.A." on Justia Law

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Lester Randle died in 2009, survived by his wife and son, Dorothy and Raymond. Lester had previously been married to Ruthie Randle. Two children were born of that marriage: Tumika and Sylvester, the Appellants. Ruthie and Lester divorced in 1977 when the children were very young. Lester died intestate. On May 7, 2018, Dorothy filed a petition for grant of letters of administration in which she noted that Lester’s “estate consist[ed] of no real property but ha[d] a potential claim for unliquidated damages arising out of” Lester’s death. The petition acknowledged the Appellants, as well as Dorothy and Raymond, as Lester’s heirs at law. Dorothy was appointed administrator on July 12, 2018. On November 19, 2018, Dorothy filed a petition for a determination of heirship, now asserting that the estate consisted of a claim for benefits against the manufacturer of Granuflow/Natural Lyte in the amount of $67,500.25 arising from Lester’s use of the prescription drug. The petition further claimed that the Appellants were “not heirs at law of Lester Randle and [were] not entitled to any of the settlement proceeds,” but rather they “were born to a married man, putative father,” and Ruthie. A summons by publication was submitted in the newspaper to any unknown heirs. The Court of Appeals affirmed a chancellor's adjudication that Dorothy and Raymond were Lester's only heirs at law. The issues this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether the chancery court and the Court of Appeals incorrectly considered the settlement proceeds from a wrongful-death claim as an asset of the estate; and (2) whether the chancery court and the Court of Appeals incorrectly considered the petition to determine heirs under Mississippi Code Sections 91-1-1 to -31 (Rev. 2021) instead of a determination of wrongful-death beneficiaries under Mississippi Code Section 11-7-13 (Rev. 2019). The Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the Court of Appeals and chancery court and remanded this case to the chancery court to determine the wrongful-death beneficiaries of Lester under Section 11-7-13. View "Randle v. Randle" on Justia Law

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Decedent was an unnamed class member in an action involving alleged misrepresentations made by Defendants while marketing, selling, administering, and servicing various life insurance and annuity products. After the class member died her Estate commenced an action asserting various contract, fraud, and elder abuse claims pertaining to Decedent’s 1989 purchase of a purported “single-premium universal life insurance policy.” The district court granted Defendants’ motion to enforce the settlement agreement and enjoined the Estate from pursuing the Oregon claims.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained to effectuate service under Rule 4, a party may either follow state law where service is made or fulfill one of the following: (a) deliver a copy to the individual personally; (b) leave a copy at the individual’s dwelling or usual place of abode with someone of suitable age and discretion who resides there; or (c) deliver a copy to an authorized agent. Here, the personal representative (a nonparty) was served with the motion to substitute in a manner provided by Rule 4, received notice in compliance with Rule 25(a), and was properly brought within the jurisdiction of the Minnesota district court.Further, beyond the Estate’s self-serving statements, there is no evidence suggesting Defendants did not follow the approved procedures. Finally, the court held that upon careful review of the record, the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding the doctrines of laches and unclean hands were inapplicable under the facts and circumstances of this case. View "Marjory Thomas Osborn-Vincent v. American Express Financial" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed in part, vacated in part, and reversed in part the judgment of the district court in favor of Plaintiffs in this lawsuit alleging negligence, unjust enrichment, and seeking a constructive trust, holding that the district court erred.In this lawsuit over the failure to change the beneficiary on the decedent's life insurance, Plaintiffs Michael Zook and Teresa Chramosta, as copersonal representatives of the estate of Robert Zook and in their individual capacities, and Robin Kuhlman, in her individual capacity, sued Jerry Zook, alleging unjust enrichment and seeking a constructive trust, and John Marshall, alleging negligence. The district court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs, found Defendants jointly and severally liable for $200,000, and imposed a constructive trust on the insurance proceeds in Jerry's possession. Marshall and Jerry appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed Marshall's appeal as a result of his death, reversed the district court's finding that Jerry was unjustly enriched and in imposing a constructive trust, and vacated the order imposing the constructive trust, holding that the district court erred on this issue. View "Zook v. Zook" on Justia Law

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Wife Olivia Seels Smalls died during the pendency of her divorce from Husband Joe Truman Smalls. The couple accumulated significant assets, including the marital home; eighteen rental properties; and multiple retirement, checking, savings, and investment accounts. Both parties worked during the marriage and contributed to the acquisition of the marital assets. The parties separated in July 2014 when Wife left the marital home. On October 10, 2014, Wife filed the underlying action seeking an order that would, among other things: (1) allow her to live separate and apart from Husband pendente lite and permanently; (2) restrain Husband from harassing her or cancelling her health insurance; (3) permit her to enter the marital home to retrieve her personal belongings; (4) provide separate support and maintenance and/or alimony pendente lite and permanently; and (5) equitably apportion the marital property. Wife alleged she was in poor health and had been subjected to an extended pattern of abusive behavior from Husband, which escalated after she underwent surgery for lung cancer in 2013. Wife also alleged Husband committed adultery at various times during their marriage. Husband filed an answer denying the allegations and asserting counterclaims. He likewise sought a divorce and equitable apportionment of the marital assets. The parties engaged in mediation, but Wife suffered a recurrence of cancer and they never formally entered into a signed agreement resolving their dispute. The issue this case presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court's review centered on whether the family court properly retained jurisdiction to rule on the apportionment of the marital property of the parties when the Wife died. The Court ruled the appellate court did not err in determining the family court properly retained jurisdiction to rule. View "Seels v. Smalls" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the county court finding that Appellants had committed breach of trust and had taken trust assets and ordering damages against Appellants by default judgment, holding that the findings of the county court were in conflict with the relief granted and did not conform to the law.After a trial, the court entered judgment against Appellants jointly and severally. Appellants filed a motion seeking a new trial for lack of personal jurisdiction, insufficiency of process, and insufficiency of service of process, which the trial court denied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the county court's judgment was contrary to its own findings and that remand for further proceedings was required. View "In re Masek Family Trust" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Son's action alleging that Daughter engaged in an abuse of process by filing a suit to invalidate portions of the Phyllis Schlafly Revocable Trust, holding that the petition contained sufficient allegations regarding the elements of an abuse of process claim.Son and Daughter were the children of Phyllis Schlafly (Mother). After Mother died, Daughter filed a third lawsuit seeking to void amendments to the trust due to incapacity and undue influence (the Trust Suit). Daughter voluntarily dismissed the Trust Suit with prejudice three years later. Thereafter, Son filed an amended petition alleging abuse of process. The circuit court dismissed the petition for failure to state a claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court's dismissal was erroneous because Son alleged sufficient facts to support the elements of an abuse of process claim. View "Schlafly v. Cori" on Justia Law

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Defendant was a beneficiary and trustee of a family trust. In 2018, Defendant provided Plaintiff, Defendant's daughter, and the other remainder beneficiaries with a notice stating: "[y]ou may not bring an action to contest the Trust more than 120 days from the date this notification by the trustee is served upon you." Approximately 230 days after Plaintiff received this notice, she filed a petition seeking to invalidate a previous amendment to the trust. Defendant, citing a no-contest clause contained in the trust instrument, claimed that Plaintiff's litigation resulted in her disinheritance. The trial court agreed and Plaintiff appealed.On appeal, the Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court. The court rejected Plaintiff's claim that untimely litigation does not constitute a "direct contest without probable cause." More specifically, Plaintiff argued that the fact her litigation was untimely does not automatically render it unsupported by probable cause, and that the court should review the merits of her challenge. The court explained that Plaintiff's litigation was a "direct contest" and that, solely because it was untimely, it lacked probable cause. View "Meiri v. Shamtoubi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the findings entered by the district court upon the court's determination that this case had been improperly reinstated after the district court voluntarily dismissed their case without prejudice, holding that the district court erred in dismissing this case.Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Defendants, asserting two counts of undue influence and one count of fraud in the inducement regarding the devise of certain real estate by the parties' mother. Plaintiffs later filed a voluntary dismissal of the action without prejudice. The trial court effectively treated the dismissal as a motion dismissing without prejudice then granted the motion. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a motion to vacate/reinstate, which the court sustained. The district court then dismissed the case based upon Plaintiffs' previously filed voluntary dismissal without prejudice. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, at the time Plaintiffs filed their voluntary dismissal, a final submission had occurred, divesting Plaintiffs of their statutory ability to voluntarily dismiss their case under Neb. Rev. Stat. 25-601. View "Schaaf v. Schaaf" on Justia Law