Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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At issue was how to construe a will’s residuary clause to determine what estate it granted to the testator’s wife (Wife) and whether Appellants were entitled to their attorneys’ fees under the doctrine of judicial instructions. Testator’s son filed a complaint asking the circuit court to construe the residuary clause as granting Wife a life estate in the residual property. The circuit court granted Wife’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that the intent of Testator was to devise and bequeath all of the rest and residue of the estate to Wife and that a life estate was not created. Despite this adverse ruling, Testator’s two sons (together, Appellants) moved for the circuit court to tax their attorneys’ fees against the estate on the ground that the meaning of the residuary clause required judicial instruction. The circuit court declined to do so. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part, holding (1) the residuary clause unambiguously granted Wife a life estate in the residual property; and (2) the circuit court properly refused to award attorneys’ fees under the doctrine of judicial instructions. View "Feeney v. Feeney" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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In this complaint seeking to impeach a will on the grounds of undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court sustaining Defendants’ plea in bar on the grounds of claim preclusion, issue preclusion, and judicial estoppel. The circuit court based its decision on three grounds. The Supreme Court rejected each ground, holding that claim preclusion, issue preclusion, and judicial estoppel did not bar Plaintiff’s complaint to impeach the decedent’s will in this case. The court remanded the case to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "D'Ambrosio v. Wolf" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The circuit court did not err by concluding that a holographic writing did not comply with Va. Code 64.2-403 or -404. After the decedent died, the executor of the decedent’s estate submitted the decedent’s will and a writing written across a divider in a binder filled with estate planning documents that the executor argued was a codicil. The circuit court clerk admitted the will to probate but concluded that the writing was not a validly executed codicil. The executor appealed. The circuit court refused to probate the writing as a codicil, concluding that it did not comply with the statutory requirements set forth in section 64.2-403. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the record supported the circuit court’s rulings that the writing was neither signed in the manner required by section 64.2-403(A) nor intended to constitute a codicil. View "Irving v. Divito" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiff’s claims of undue influence in this action seeking to void a trust established by the decedent eight days before his death. Plaintiff, the decedent’s wife, argued that there were suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of the trust and that Defendant, the drafter of the trust, used his position to procure the trust. When Defendant separately filed a complaint seeking to establish the will established by the decedent at the same time he established the trust as the last true will and testament of the decedent, Plaintiff filed a counterclaim asserting that the will was executed under Defendant’s undue influence and was therefore void. The circuit court sustained Defendant’s plea in bar to the counterclaim and then granted summary judgment to Defendant on the complaint claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in dismissing, with prejudice, Plaintiff’s claims of undue influence. View "Kim v. Kim" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court ruling that the Commissioner of Accounts had subject matter jurisdiction to hear a petition for aid and direction initially filed with the Commissioner seeking construction of the decedent’s will and the determination of his heirs. The court held (1) Appellant had standing to bring this appeal because the circuit court could potentially determine that he was a beneficiary of the will on remand, and Rule 5:25 also did not bar this appeal because challenges to subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time; and (2) the Commissioner did not exceed his authority when he, without a referral from the circuit court, conducted a hearing and produced a report interpreting the decedent’s will and determining his heirs. View "Gray v. Binder" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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At issue in this case was the validity of instruments executed by Beverly Gelber two months before she died. The documents purported to convey Beverly’s home and personal property to her daughter, Meryl Glock. Lawrence Gelber and Darlene Fleischmann, Beverly’s children and the executors of her estate, filed this lawsuit asserting that Meryl wrongfully induced Beverly to execute a deed of gift and bill of sale through undue influence and fraud and that the bill of sale, which Beverly executed in her individual capacity, was of no effect because Beverly’s personal property was held in trust. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the circuit court and remanded this case for a new trial, holding that the circuit court (1) did not err in denying the executors’ motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of title and possession of Beverly’s personal property, in excluding records of real estate tax assessments on Beverly’s home, and in granting the motion to strike the executors’ evidence on the civil conspiracy claims; and (2) erred in excluding from evidence declarations made by Beverly disavowing the property transfers and in granting the motion to strike the executors’ evidence on their claims for undue influence and promissory fraud. View "Gelber v. Glock" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Frank Still and Jane Still, who were married, created trusts in 1991 and amended those trusts in 1999. Also in 1999, Frank executed a durable power of attorney. Frank designated Jane as his attorney-in-fact should he become incapacitated and LaVerne Lemen, his daughter, as his successor attorney-in-fact. Frank’s other child was Jeffrey Still. Frank’s power of attorney vested his agent with broad powers. In 2011, Jane died, and Lemen and Still received nothing from Jane’s estate. Upon Jane’s death, Lemen became Frank’s attorney-in-fact, and she and Still became co-trustees of Frank’s trust and the executors of his will. Lemen and Still relied on the broad power of attorney to create an inter vivos trust that disinherited Jane’s heirs and provided for Lemen and Still to receive Frank’s entire estate at his death. William Reineck, Jane’s heir, filed suit against Lemen and Still, alleging breach of fiduciary duty. The trial court granted summary judgment for Lemen and Still. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment with the exception of the award of attorney’s fees against Reineck personally, holding (1) Lemen’s actions were authorized by the power of attorney; and (2) the court erred in awarding attorney’s fees. View "Reineck v. Lemen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The two decedents in these consolidated cases were residents at two different nursing homes operating by Virginia Health Services, Inc. After their deaths, the executors asked the nursing homes to provide copies of the written policies and procedures in effect during the decedents’ stays. The nursing homes refused, and the decedents’ estates filed declaratory judgment complaints seeking to assert a private right of action for the production of documents under 12 VAC 5-371-140(G). Specifically, the estates sought an order of “specific performance” compelling the nursing homes to provide the requested documents. The circuit court dismissed both complaints, holding that the regulation did not require the production of documents requested by the estates. The Supreme Court affirmed, albeit on different grounds, holding (1) the governing statute does not imply a private right of action for the enforcement of this regulation; and (2) therefore, the estates’ claims cannot be enforced in a declaratory judgment action. View "Cherrie v. Virginia Health Servs., Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2003, Dumville met with attorney Thorsen to prepare her will. Thorsen understood that Dumville wanted a will that would, upon her death, convey all of her property to her mother if her mother survived her, and, if her mother predeceased her, to the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Dumville was 43 and lived with three cats, which she desired to go to the RSPCA upon her death. Thorsen prepared, and Dumville executed, the will. She died in 2008, her mother having predeceased her. Thorsen, as co-executor of the estate, notified the RSPCA that it was the sole beneficiary of Dumville’s estate. Thorsen was informed that, in the opinion of the title insurance company, the will left only the tangible estate, not real estate, to the RSPCA. Thorsen brought suit in a collateral proceeding to correct this “scrivener’s error” based on Dumville’s clear original intent. The court found the language unambiguously limited the RSPCA bequest to tangible personal property, while the intangible estate passed intestate to Dumville’s heirs at law. The RSPCA received $72,015.60, but the bequest, less expenses, would have totaled $675,425.50 absent the error. RSPCA sued Thorsen for negligence, as a third-party beneficiary of his contract with Dumville. The court found for the RSPCA. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed: RSPCA was a clearly and definitely identified third-party beneficiary. View "Thorsen v. Richmond Soc'y for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals" on Justia Law

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Settlor established a revocable trust that designated his new wife and his only children, two sons from a previous marriage (the Sons), as beneficiaries. After Settlor died, the Trustee informed the Sons that she had decided that the Sons’ act of writing certain letters to an attorney and a beneficiary violated the Trust’s no contest clause. The Sons filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that their conduct did not trigger the no contest clause. The Trustee demurred. The court overruled the demurrer and ruled that the Sons and their descendants were the rightful remainder beneficiaries of the Trust. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in denying the Trustee’s demurrer and in concluding that the Sons and their respective descendants were rightful beneficiaries of the Trust. View "Rafalko v. Georgiadis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates