Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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After Mark A. Sveen designated his then-wife, Kaye L. Melin, as the primary beneficiary of his life insurance policy, and his children as contingent beneficiaries, Minnesota extended its revocation-upon-divorce statute to life insurance policies. When Mark died in 2011, his children and Melin cross-claimed for the proceeds. The district court granted summary judgment to the children. The court concluded that a contested beneficiary like Melin has standing; this court has held in Whirlpool Corp. v. Ritterthat a revocation-upon-divorce statute like the one here violates the Contract Clause when applied retroactively; and thus the court's previous opinion forecloses any conclusion other than that the statute here was unconstitutional when applied retroactively. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Melin v. Sveen" on Justia Law

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Semmie John Guenther, Jr., filed an administrative charge with the EEOC, alleging that his former employer, Griffin Construction, discriminated against him on the basis of his disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq. When Guenther passed away while his charge was pending, the special administrator of his estate filed suit on his behalf when he received the EEOC right-to-sue letter. The district court dismissed the action based on Ark. Code Ann. 16-62-101(a)(1) and found the claim had abated. The court held that federal common law does not incorporate state law to determine whether an ADA claim for compensatory damages survives or abates upon the death of the aggrieved party. The court joined its sister circuits that have allowed the individual’s estate to bring and maintain a suit for compensatory damages under the ADA in place of the aggrieved party. Therefore, Guenther’s ADA claim for compensatory damages survived his death and Griffin Construction is not entitled to judgment on the pleadings. The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Guenther v. Griffin Construction Co." on Justia Law

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The Trusts filed suits in federal and state court over the course of two-and-a-half decades, claiming rights as the beneficiaries, successors, or assigns of the owners of coal mining royalty interests in Kentucky. In this case, the Trusts sued their former attorneys, alleging legal malpractice based on the adverse outcome of one of these cases. The district court dismissed the complaint. The court rejected the Trusts' assertion that the attorneys committed malpractice by failing to raise preclusion arguments based on the outcome of a prior case. The court agreed with the district court that the proffered argument would not have changed the outcome in Willits II. The court concluded that the Trusts have not stated a malpractice claim based on failure to press this preclusion theory in Willits II. The court also rejected the Trusts' assertion that the attorneys committed malpractice by failing to raise certain constitutional arguments at an earlier phase. The court agreed with the district court that the constitutional arguments lack merit. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "The PPW Royalty Trust v. Barton" on Justia Law

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WEB2B filed for bankruptcy and turned over its balances to the Chapter 7 trustee. RAC filed suit claiming the balances of an express trust, resulting trust, or constructive trust. WEB2B provided automated clearinghouse and electronic-check conversion services to RAC. The bankruptcy court dismissed RAC's claims and granted summary judgment to the trustee. The court affirmed the district court's affirmance of the bankruptcy court's decision, concluding that the parties' processing agreement had no requirement to segregate RAC funds, nor a definite, unequivocal, explicit declaration of trust. Therefore, there was no express trust in this case. The district court did not err in concluding that the undisputed facts here do not show with reasonable certainty or beyond a reasonable doubt that a resulting trust exists. Finally, the district court properly concluded that RAC had identified no clear and convincing evidence of conversion sufficient to justify imposing a constructive trust on the remaining funds. View "Rent-A-Center East, Inc. v. Leonard" on Justia Law

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Debtor appealed the bankruptcy court's order overruling her objection to the chapter 7 trustee's final report and denying her motion to compel the chapter 7 trustee to abandon $16,893.44 he had received from the Ruth E. Thompson Revocable Trust. The court agreed with the bankruptcy court that pursuant to paragraph 5.3.4 of the trust agreement, debtor's interest in the Trust was fully alienable by her on the petition date, and her interest in the Trust was not excluded from the bankruptcy estate under 11 U.S.C. 541(c)(2). Accordingly, the court affirmed the bankruptcy court's order. View "Thompson-Rossbach v. Doeling" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs claimed they were lured into making investments from which their money was “appropriated” and sued Nathan and Vertical Group. The district court entered an order of default against Vertical, but did not award damages at that time. Nathan filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The district court closed the matter during the bankruptcy. Nathan proposed a Chapter 11 plan. The plaintiffs objected and brought an adversary proceeding, restating their allegations and asserting that their claims were non-dischargeable. The bankruptcy court agreed, rejected Nathan’s plan, awarded actual and punitive damages, and determined that Nathan’s bankruptcy estate acquired his interest in the Kathleen Trust, into which Nathan and his wife had transferred assets before his bankruptcy, but did not identify a specific value of Nathan’s interest. The court converted Nathan’s bankruptcy to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The trustee tried to reach Trust assets. The court concluded that Nathan’s powers as a co-trustee were property of his bankruptcy estate, but Nathan lacked authority to act as trustee without Kathleen’s consent and only Kathleen could revoke the trust. Plaintiffs reopened the original action to determine damages and to collect the Vertical judgment from Trust assets. The district court referred the matter to the bankruptcy court, which recommended awarding actual damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees in the amount awarded in the bankruptcy adversary proceeding. The district court adopted the findings and entered a default judgment against Vertical. The Eighth Circuit dismissed Nathan’s appeal for lack of standing and affirmed as to Kathleen. View "Cutcliff v. Reuter" on Justia Law

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Pepper, who suffered from cerebral palsy, owned an extensive collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia as a result of his friendship with Elvis. When he moved into a nursing home in 1978, he told Nancy to “keep it.” Nancy, a nurse and a devoted Elvis fan, had cared for Pepper after the death of his father until he went into the nursing home. Nancy was not compensated for her efforts. Gary died two years later. Nancy maintained the collection until 2009, when it sold for $250,000. The estates of Pepper and his mother sued, alleging that Pepper retained ownership of the collection and that his interest passed to his heirs. A jury found that Pepper had made a conditional gift to Nancy; when he died, Nancy’s ownership was no longer subject to that reversionary interest. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The jurors heard testimony about the care Nancy provided, read notes that Pepper wrote to Nancy, and saw photographs of the two spending time together. Nancy explained how important the Collection was to Pepper. Pepper’s relatives, who lived in California and were not Elvis fans, testified that Gary did not even tell them about the Collection. View "Estate of Pepper v. Whitehead" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Draper, age 18, suffered traumatic brain injury in a 2006 car accident. Draper executed a durable power of attorney, authorizing her parents to collect money; compromise claims; and “fund, transfer assets to, and to instruct and advise the trustee of any trust wherein [Draper is] or may be the trustor, or beneficiary.” Draper began receiving Supplemental Security Income payments. In February 2008, father signed a personal-injury settlement. Draper received $429,259.41. Her parents signed documents creating a Special Needs Trust, intended to qualify under 42 U.S.C. 1396p(d)(4)(A), to provide for Draper’s needs without “displac[ing] or supplant[ing] public assistance or other sources of support that may otherwise be available” and transferred $429,259.41. In September 2008, Draper received notice that she had been overpaid $3,000 in SSI benefits because her trust exceeded the SSI-eligibility limit of $2,000, and that her SSI payments would cease. An ALJ found that for the trust to be exempt from consideration as a personal asset, Draper’s parents had to act as third-party creators when establishing it, but instead acted as agents under the power of attorney. Draper’s parents obtained a state court order modifying the trust, which retroactively listed the state court, rather than Draper’s parents, as the settlor. The Appeals Council denied review, finding that the order did not provide a basis for altering the ALJ’s decision. The district court and Eighth Circuit affirmed. View "Draper v. Colvin" on Justia Law

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Richard L. Brown and Susan Brown-Thill, co-trustees of the EDB Trust, signed an Arbitration Agreement for resolving a broad range of disputes. These consolidated appeals concern two awards following an initial arbitration. The March 14 award authorized distributions from family-owned limited partnerships to family trusts. The December 12 award declared invalid Brown's attempt to resign as co-trustee and name his successor, and removed Brown as co-trustee, applying the Uniform Trust Code's standards for the statutory removal of a trustee as adopted in Missouri, the situs of the controversy, and Florida, the situs of the EDB Trust. The district court denied Brown's attempt to vacate both awards and Brown-Thill's request for a contractual award of attorneys' fees in both suits. The court concluded that the March 14 award cannot be vacated on the ground of procedural irregularities and the arbitrator's procedural errors did not violate the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 10(a)(2), (3), and (4). In regards to the December 12 award, the district court did not err in interpreting the EDB Trust Agreement; the arbitrator's interpretation of the Trust Agreement's removal provision is not a ground for vacating the award; the court concluded that Brown-Thill properly submitted the removal issue under the Arbitration Agreement, the arbitrator then had power to construe and apply the Trust Agreement's removal provision and to make findings regarding the statutory standards for removal which Brown-Thill could present in a judicial proceeding, but the arbitrator exceeded his powers by exercising the exclusively judicial function of removing Brown on statutory standards; however, this decision is of no practical importance because of Brown's unconditional resignation as co-trustee; and the court rejected Brown's FAA challenge. Finally, the court concluded that Brown-Thill was not entitled to recover attorneys' fees. Accordingly, the court affirmed except with a modification and denied Brown's motion to take judicial notice.View "Brown v. Brown-Thill" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against MetLife, alleging that MetLife abused its discretion in denying her claim to receive the proceeds of her late husband's life insurance policy under an employee-benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's grant of summary judgment to MetLife. The court concluded based on the evidence - the 1991 form, the husband's will, and the November 2010 form - that MetLife did not abuse its discretion in determining that the husband's son, rather than plaintiff, was the beneficiary of the life insurance proceeds. Even assuming that the substantial-compliance doctrine was available to federal courts in the interpleader context, the court would not extend it to the circumstances presented here. Where an ERISA plan administrator is given discretion under the plan to determine eligibility for benefits, the doctrine does not deprive the administrator from requiring strict compliance with the terms of the plan. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Hall v. Metropolitan Life Ins., et al." on Justia Law