Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s order refusing to terminate an irrevocable trust and granted summary judgment in favor of the trustees. The sole beneficiary of the trust sought to terminate the trust and requested that the court distribute the assets to her. The beneficiary also alleged that the trustees had breached their fiduciary duties. The circuit court declined to terminate the trust. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the circuit court erred in finding the trust to be unambiguous; and (2) the circuit court erred in not terminating the trust and distributing the trust property to the beneficiary because the trust purpose had been fulfilled and because termination of the trust would “substantially further the trustee’s purposes in creating the trust.” View "In re Guardianship & Conservatorship of Novotny" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The Supreme Court reversed a circuit court order approving the redrafting of Dean Nelson’s will. The change in the will was proposed upon the petition of Dean’s conservator after Dean was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Elizabeth Nelson, Dean’s wife, argued on appeal that the circuit court erred in permitting the conservator to adopt the new will, which eliminated a trust established for Elizabeth’s benefit consisting of Elizabeth’s lifetime, one-half interest in the residue of Dean’s estate. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the circuit court’s decision to authorize the conservator to change the will was an abuse of discretion due to the lack of adequate factual findings. View "In re Guardianship of Nelson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s dismissal of Son’s action to invalidate amendments to Settlor’s revocable trust to expressly disinherit Son as well as the dismissal of Son’s breach of fiduciary duty claim and request for an accounting. Following Settlor’s death, Son commenced this action to invalidate the amendments to Settlor’s revocable trust on the grounds that Settlor lacked capacity and was unduly influenced. Son also made a claim for breach of fiduciary duty and requested an accounting. The circuit court dismissed the petition, finding that Son’s claims were barred by S.D. Codified Laws 55-4-57(a)’s time limitations for commencing a judicial proceeding. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court correctly dismissed the lack of capacity and undue influence claims as untimely; (2) because Son did not commence an action against the trustee of the trust in her individual capacity, the circuit court did not err in dismissing the breach of fiduciary duty claim; and (3) the circuit court did not err in dismissing Son’s request for an accounting where Son had no standing to demand an accounting. View "In re Elizabeth A. Briggs Revocable Living Trust" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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In this appeal from the settlement of the estate of Fred Finch, Dean Anderson, a beneficiary, challenged the award of expenses, disbursements, and attorney’s fees to the personal representative, Coral Headrick. Specifically, Anderson argued (1) the circuit court erred when it granted allowed Headrick to retain $13,355.42 in fees as personal representative because Headrick engaged in self-dealing while acting as Finch’s fiduciary, and (2) the circuit court erred when it allowed Headrick to recover partial attorney’s fees for the estate’s attorney because the fees allowed were, in fact, fees incurred for the attorney’s work in defending Headrick’s improper self-dealing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the court properly found that Headrick was entitled to reasonable fees incurred for her time spent on the estate not relative to self-dealing; and (2) the court did not abuse its discretion in granting Headrick’s request to recover attorney’s fees from the estate for the work the estate’s attorney performed on behalf of the estate. View "In re Estate of Finch" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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In 2003, Lester Bronson executed a power of attorney appointing Leslie “Butch” Bronson - his son - as his attorney-in-fact. In 2010, Lester informed his bank that he wished to add Butch as a joint owner on one of Lester’s bank accounts. On the day of the transaction, Butch signed Lester’s name on the required bank form while they were together in the bank employee’s office because Lester was allegedly physically unable to sign his own name. In 2014, Lester died. Lester’s daughters - Gloria Sichmeller and Debra Mills (together, Petitioners) - subsequently brought this action against Butch seeking to recover the account balance and exemplary damages, asserting that by signing Lester’s name Butch had engaged in impermissible self-dealing. The circuit court ruled in favor of Butch, concluding that Butch had acted as “a mere instrument or [amanuensis]” at Lester’s request. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not clearly err in finding that Butch was not exercising his power of attorney when he signed Lester’s name but, rather, was acting as an amanuensis. View "In re Estate of Bronson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Bonnie Jean Pease executed a holographic will approximately seven months before her death. The will disinherited Pease’s mother, sister, and brother but not her brother Douglas Hubert. At issue before the circuit court was whether Pease intended to devise anything to Lisa and Lynn Schock, who were named in the will as the executors of Pease’s estate and to whom Pease gave “all [her] belongings…” contingent on them giving a share to Hubert, to a search for a home for her bird, and to fund litigation against the State. The circuit court ruled that after the Schocks set aside the requested funds, they were to distribute the entire residual estate to Hubert. The Schocks appealed, arguing that the gifting language of the will gave them a conditional gift. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the will gave Pease’s property to Schocks subject to the stated convictions. View "In re Estate of Hubert" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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In 2005, Mother executed a power of attorney that appointed her son (Son) as her attorney-in-fact. Mother held a life estate in several properties to which her daughters (Daughters) held remainder interests. Prior to Mother’s death in 2013, Son had been leasing from Mother the land in which Daughters held remainder interests. In 2014, Daughters initiated this suit alleging that Son had breached his farmland lease by failing to pay rent on the property in which they received their remainder interests. The Estate also brought suit alleging that Son breached the fiduciary duties he owed to Mother. Prior to trial, the court granted Plaintiffs’ motion to exclude extrinsic evidence of Mother’s intent with regards to the power of attorney. After a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Daughters on the breach of contract claim and in favor of the Estate on the breach of fiduciary duty claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred when it prevented Son from introducing relevant evidence related to, inter alia, the circumstances surrounding Mother’s arrangement of leasing her land to her family without charging rent. Remanded for a new trial. View "Hein v. Zoss" on Justia Law

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Maurice Ricard and his wife, Ella “Bernadette” Ricard, had five girls and one boy. Maurice had a will creating the Maurice M. Ricard Family Trust. The Trust provided that real property owned by Maurice would be held by the Trust for the use and benefit of Bernadette during her lifetime and that, upon the death of Bernadette, the Trust would terminate and the girls would receive the assets. Maurice died in 2002, after which the sisters sold their respective interests in the Trust to their brother. In 2010, after Bernadette died, the Trust terminated. The sisters subsequently sought to rescind their agreements and repurchase their respective interests. The trial court denied relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the agreements were enforceable, and the sisters should not be allowed to rescind their agreements. View "In re Ricard Family Trust" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Decedent named heirs in her will, but the heirs predeceased Decedent. Thus, Decedent’s estate became subject to the laws of intestate succession. The children of Decedent’s brother (collectively, Appellants) were designated as heirs of his estate. The circuit court then determined that the illegitimate daughter of Decedent’s brother (Yvette) was also an heir entitled to inherit equally from Decedent’s estate. In so holding, the circuit court concluded that S.C. Codified Laws 29A-2-114(c), which sets forth the methods under which an illegitimate child must establish paternity for purposes of intestate succession, was unconstitutional as applied to Yvette because it prohibited Yvette’s right to recover as an illegitimate child in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, although section 29A-2-114(c) creates a classification between legitimate and illegitimate children, it is constitutional as applied to Yvette under both the federal and state constitutions. View "In re Estate of Flaws" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Decedent named heirs in her will, but the heirs predeceased Decedent. Thus, Decedent’s estate became subject to the laws of intestate succession. The children of Decedent’s brother (collectively, Appellants) were designated as heirs of his estate. The circuit court then determined that the illegitimate daughter of Decedent’s brother (Tamara) was also an heir entitled to inherit equally from Decedent’s estate. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err by rendering a judgment of heirship declaring Tamara a biological child of Decedent’s brother and an equal heir with Appellants. View "In re Estate of Flaws" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates