Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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This case was an estate-administration case that was only partially before the Alabama Supreme Court. Perry Eugene Cox, Jr. ("Cox"), appealed a judgment made final by the Shelby Circuit Court ("the trial court") under Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. Specifically, the trial court held that Cox's counterclaim against his sisters, Jennie Jo Cox Parrish, Debra Cox McCurdy, and Shirley Cox Wise, as coexecutors of the estate of their father, Perry Eugene Cox, Sr., was time-barred by Alabama's nonclaims statute, 43-2-350, Ala. Code 1975. The trial court dismissed Cox's counterclaim and certified its judgment as final and appealable, and Cox appealed. Because the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying its dismissal of Cox's counterclaim under Rule 54(b), the Supreme Court determined no final judgment existed and the Court lacked jurisdiction to decide this appeal. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed. View "Cox, Jr. v. Parrish" on Justia Law

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This case contested the validity of a property deed that was executed by Gayron Brooks in the weeks before her death from lung cancer. The deed conveyed her house in Boaz to her husband of 18 years, David. Following Gayron's death, her adult children, Teresa Elizabeth Mitchell and Steve E. Allen, as personal representatives of Gayron's estate, sued David alleging, among other things, that David held a dominant position over Gayron and that he had unduly influenced her to sign the deed. After a four-day nonjury trial, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of David. This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error in the circuit court's judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Mitchell v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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Steven Christopher Jones ("Chris Jones") appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Tammy Brewster and Jeffrey Eugene Brewster in a will contest filed by Jones concerning the will of his father, Mike Jones. Chris Jones filed his will contest in the probate court because the probate court had not admitted the will to probate and had not appointed a personal representative of Mike Jones's estate. Contemporaneously with the will-contest complaint, Chris Jones filed a motion to transfer the will contest to the circuit court. Thus, he sought to invoke the circuit court's jurisdiction pursuant to section 43-8-198, Ala. Code 1975. The probate court certified the probate-court record to the circuit court, the circuit-court clerk docketed the case, and the circuit court held a trial. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the record, however, was devoid of a transfer order from the probate court, thereby depriving the circuit court subject-matter jurisdiction. Because the probate court did not enter a transfer order in this case, "the procedural requirements of 43-8-198 were not satisfied, and, as a result, the circuit court never obtained jurisdiction over the will contest." Therefore, the judgment of the circuit court was void and would not support Chris Jones's appeal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Jones v. Brewster" on Justia Law

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Clifford Wright ("Wright"), the administrator of the estate of Mary Evelyn Wright ("Mary") appealed a summary judgment entered in favor of Dawn Reid, Phyllis Harris, and Tuwanda Worrills (collectively referred to as "the nurses"), who, during all relevant times, were employed by the Cleburne County Hospital Board, Inc., d/b/a Cleburne County Nursing Home ("the Hospital Board"). Mary complained she suffered injuries from a fall while a resident of a nursing home operated by the Hospital Board. Mary allegedly died from her injuries the day after her complaint was filed. Wright was appointed the administrator of Mary's estate and was substituted as the plaintiff. As amended, Wright's complaint asserted claims against the nurses, the Hospital Board, and various fictitiously named parties under the Alabama Medical Liability Act. Wright's claim against the Hospital Board included 13 separate allegations of negligence. Wright's claims against each of the nurses included 13 separate allegations of negligence. Additionally, Wright alleged that the Hospital Board was vicariously liable for the actions of its agents, specifically, the actions of the nurses. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying the summary judgment in favor of the nurses as a final judgment pursuant to Rule 54(b). Accordingly, the trial court's Rule 54(b) certification was invalid; this appeal was from a nonfinal judgment; and the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Wright v. Harris, et al." on Justia Law

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Mary Chmielewski, as personal representative of the estate of Yvonne Speer Hoover, deceased; Grace Ellis; and Roger Stone petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Baldwin Circuit Court to vacate an order purporting to set aside its earlier dismissal of a will contest. Hoover executed a will in May 2017. Hoover's will designated Tere Mills as a beneficiary of Hoover's estate. A codicil to Hoover's will was executed shortly before Hoover died in July 2017. The codicil eliminated Mills as a beneficiary of Hoover's estate and added Ellis and Stone as beneficiaries. After Hoover died, her will, along with the codicil, was admitted to probate, and letters testamentary were issued to Chmielewski. Thereafter, pursuant to section 43-8-199, Ala. Code 1975, Mills filed a petition in the circuit court contesting the validity of Hoover's will, as amended by the codicil. It was alleged that the circuit court entered final orders disposing of the action and, no postjudgment motion having been filed within 30 days, lost jurisdiction over the matter. Thereafter, the circuit court, allegedly without jurisdiction, entered an order purporting to grant a postjudgment motion and to reinstate the proceedings. Because the Supreme Court concluded that the proceedings were indeed dismissed, it granted the petition and directed the circuit court to set aside its order purporting to vacate the dismissal. View "Ex parte Chmielewski" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, Randolph Clay Cooper ("Clay") appealed two summary judgments entered in favor of his siblings, Garland Terrance Cooper ("Terry") and Rebecca Cooper Bonner ("Becky"). Case no. 1170270 concerned a petition for letters of administration for the estate of Carol Evans Cooper ("Mrs. Cooper"), who was their mother. Case no. 1170271 concerned Clay's petition to distribute any assets remaining in a trust created by the will of their father, Nolan P. Cooper ("Mr. Cooper"). After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined summary judgment was appropriate in Case no. 1170270, but that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in 1170271: in the 2012 litigation regarding the administration of his mother’s estate, Clay attempted to sue Becky in her capacity as "administratrix of the will and/or estate of Carol Evans Cooper," among other capacities. However, that attempt was ineffective because no administration of Mrs. Cooper's estate had yet been commenced and no estate administrator was appointed until after the 2012 litigation had concluded on October 1, 2014. The parties in the two cases were not the same or substantially identical (letters of administration had been previously granted to Harry D’Olive, Jr.), and the circuit court erred by entering a summary judgment in favor of Becky and Terry based on their argument that the administration of Mrs. Cooper's estate was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. View "Cooper v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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Kimberly Blalock appealed a circuit court order holding Crimson Sutphin was the rightful beneficiary of a policy insuring the life of Loyd Sutphin, Jr. ("Loyd"), issued by New York Life Insurance Company. Loyd took out a $250,000 individual whole life-insurance policy, naming his daughter, Sutphin, as the sole beneficiary. In October 2012, Loyd married Blalock, and they lived together at his home in Henegar. Soon after, in December 2012, Loyd submitted a change-of-beneficiary-designation form to New York Life, designating Blalock and Sutphin each as a 50% beneficiary under the policy. A few years later, in February 2016, Loyd and Blalock divorced; however, the life-insurance policy was not addressed in the divorce judgment, and Loyd never changed the beneficiary designation following the divorce. Loyd died later that year on December 23, 2016. In April 2017, Sutphin filed a action seeking a judgment declaring that she was the rightful beneficiary of the entire proceeds of the New York Life policy because, she asserted, pursuant to section 30-4-17, Ala. Code 1975, Blalock's beneficiary designation had been revoked upon her divorce from Loyd. Blalock moved to dismiss the action, arguing that Tennessee, not Alabama, law should govern and, thus, that the DeKalb Circuit Court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case. The circuit court denied the motion to dismiss; Blalock filed a motion to reconsider the denial. At an evidentiary hearing on her motion to reconsider, Blalock again argued that the DeKalb Circuit Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction but also asserted that the application of 30-4-17 in this instance violated section 22 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901; the circuit court denied Blalock's motion to reconsider. The case proceeded to a bench trial, at which Blalock argued that she and Loyd had established a common-law marriage after their divorce and before his death, thereby reviving her beneficiary designation under the policy. The circuit court heard testimony from numerous witnesses on this issue, most of whom testified on Blalock's behalf. In 2018, the circuit court issued a final order in the case, holding that Sutphin was the rightful beneficiary under the policy because Blalock's beneficiary designation had been revoked by virtue of 30-4-17 and no common-law marriage existed to revive that designation before Loyd's death. Finding that Blalock's beneficiary designation was revoked under 30-4-17 by virtue of her divorce, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Blalock v. Sutphin" on Justia Law

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Evangela Skelton ("Angel"), as personal representative of the estate of Brian Lee Skelton, Sr. ("the estate"), requested the Alabama Supreme Court issue a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court (1) to vacate its order denying her motion to dismiss an action filed in the circuit court by Joshua Council ("Joshua") and (2) to enter an order dismissing Joshua's action on the ground of abatement. Frederick Skelton, Jr. ("Frederick Jr."), died on June 7, 1979. Frederick Jr. was survived by his wife, Rheta Skelton ("Rheta"), and four children: Brian Lee Skelton, Sr. ("Brian Lee"), Frederick Tildon Skelton III ("Frederick III"), Loretta Skelton ("Loree"), and Cindy Skelton ("Cindy"). The original trustee of the trust was Rheta. The trust named Frederick III as successor trustee to Rheta and Brian Lee as successor trustee to Frederick III. The trust named no successor trustee to Brian Lee. Rheta died on December 13, 2015. Rheta was predeceased by Frederick III, who died on January 1, 2014. Thus, Brian Lee became the successor trustee of the trust following Rheta's death. However, Brian Lee died on July 2, 2016, before dividing the trust property into shares and distributing those shares pursuant to the terms of the trust and before making a final settlement of the trust. Brian Lee was survived by his wife, Angel, by two adult children, Brian Lee Skelton, Jr. ("Brian Jr."), and Taylor Skelton Madsen ("Taylor"), and by a minor child, Olivia Jade Skelton ("Olivia"). Brian Lee's adult children sought appointment such that the Family Trust shares could be distributed. Joshua, as beneficiary, petitioned for termination, alleging that the trust should have terminated on Rheta's death, and asked the circuit court to distribute the trust assets. Angel moved to dismiss, which was ultimately denied. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court erred in denying Angel's motion, reversed the Circuit court and directed it to enter an order dismissing Joshua's action. View "Ex parte Evangela Skelton, as the personal representative of the Estate of Brian Lee Skelton, Sr., deceased." on Justia Law

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Patricia Campbell appeals from an order of the Mobile Circuit Court adjudicating J.R.C., J.L.C., R.L.C., and J.H.S., minor children, as the heirs of the estate of her son, Remano Campbell. Remano died intestate in October 2011, the victim of a homicide perpetrated by his wife, Eugenia Campbell. At the time of his death, Remano was the insured under a $200,000 life-insurance policy issued by United of Omaha Life Insurance Company ("Omaha"). Because Eugenia was not considered to be Remano's surviving spouse, the proceeds of the insurance policy would pass to Remano's issue; if there was no surviving issue, then to his parent or parents equally. Remano and Eugenia were legally married in June 2002. During their marriage, Remano and Eugenia had three children, J.R.C., J.L.C., and R.L.C. Eugenia also had another child, J.H.S., who was born approximately 18 months before her marriage to Remano and who lived with Remano and Eugenia throughout their marriage. In January 2017, the administrator ad litem of Remano's estate filed a complaint in the interpleader action, seeking a judgment declaring that the Campbell children and J.H.S. were Remano's heirs and thus were entitled to the life insurance proceeds. After a hearing, the circuit court entered an order adjudicating the Campbell children and J.H.S. to be Remano's heirs and further finding that Patricia lacked standing to challenge the paternity of the children. Accordingly, the circuit court ordered disbursement of the insurance proceeds in the interpleader action and directed that the estate administration be remanded to the probate court. Patricia filed a postjudgment motion, which was denied. This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error in the circuit court’s judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed adjudication of the children as Remano’s heirs. View "Campbell v. J.R.C." on Justia Law

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William Norvell appealed the grant of summary judgment in an action he filed against his brothers Carter and Samuel Norvell. This case arose from a dispute concerning a transaction in which their mother, Martha, sold Carter a certain house on lakefront property ("the lake house"). Martha established a revocable trust ("the trust") and executed a deed transferring title to the lake house to the trust. Carter was both the trustee and the beneficiary of the trust. Martha also executed a will that, because her husband has preceded her in death, divided her estate in equal shares among three of her four sons, Carter, Samuel, and Neal Norvell, expressly excluding William. A few years later, Martha executed a "revocation of trust agreement" pursuant to which she revoked the trust and expressed her desire to transfer title to the lake house from the trust to herself; shortly thereafter, Carter, as the trustee, executed a deed transferring title to the lake house to Martha. Martha also executed a codicil to her will to devise and bequeath her assets to Carter, Samuel, Neal, and William in equal shares and to appoint Carter and William co-personal representatives of her estate. The Alabama Supreme Court determined William failed to demonstrate the circuit court erred by entering a summary judgment in the defendants' favor on his "interference-with-inheritance-expectancy" and undue influence claims. Accordingly, the Court affirmed summary judgment with respect to those claims. However, the circuit court erred by entering a summary judgment in the defendants' favor based on William's lack of "standing" to prosecute his declaratory-judgment, breach-of-fiduciary-duty, and conspiracy claims. Accordingly, the Court reversed summary judgment with respect to those claims and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Norvell v. Norvell" on Justia Law