Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
by
Tomeka McElroy and Marlon McElroy (collectively, "the contestants") appealed a judgment entered in favor of Tracy McElroy, as the personal representative of the estate of Clifton McElroy, Jr. Clifton McElroy dies in 2010, leaving a will purportedly executed by him on October 15, 2008. On April 14, 2010, Tracy petitioned the probate court to admit the will to probate, averring that the will was self-proving in accordance with the requirements of section 43-8-132, Ala. Code 1975. On that same day, the probate court admitted the will to probate and issued letters testamentary to Tracy. On September 16, 2010, the contestants filed a will contest in the probate court challenging the validity of the will. They specifically alleged that Clifton's signature on the will was forged and that, therefore, the will was not properly executed. After discovery delays, multiple continuances, and a failed summary-judgment motion filed by the contestants, the circuit court conducted a three-day bench trial on the will contest. After hearing the evidence, the circuit court entered a judgment finding that, although the will did not meet the requirements of a self-proving will under section 43-8-132, it was properly executed and witnessed and was, therefore, valid under section 43-8- 131, Ala. Code 1975. The contestants appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed their appeal because the administration of the estate had not been properly removed from the probate court; thus, the circuit court never obtained subject-matter jurisdiction over the estate administration or the will contest. After the Supreme Court dismissed the contestants' appeal, the probate court ordered a new trial to determine the validity of the will. After considering the testimony, which, again, included testimony in the transcript from the circuit-court bench trial, the probate court entered a judgment declaring that the will was valid and ordering that it be admitted to probate. The contestants appealed again. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court determined the will was properly executed pursuant to section 43-8-131 and it was properly proved pursuant to 43-8-167. View "McElroy v. McElroy, as personal representative of the Estate of Clifton McElroy, Jr." on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
Laurie Ann Ledbetter ("Laurie Ann") and Warren Lewis Ledbetter ("Warren") sued their brother, William Russell Ledbetter ("Russell") alleging he improperly used money placed in an oral trust by their deceased mother, Lois Ann Ledbetter ("Lois"). The circuit court entered a summary judgment in favor of Russell. Laurie Ann and Warren appealed, contending that they presented substantial evidence of the existence and terms of the oral trust. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed and reversed the circuit court. View "Ledbetter v. Ledbetter" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Alabama Supreme Court's review centered on whether, under the terms of a particular trust instrument, a person adopted as an adult was considered a lineal descendant of a beneficiary of the trust and, thus, a beneficiary. James Parris, G.D. Varn III, James V. Searse, Jr., and Samuel S. Parris appealed a partial summary judgment in favor of Phyllis Ballantine, Scott Harrison and Renee DuPont Harrison. The siblings argued that the use of the phrase "hereafter born" in defining "lineal descendants" in the 1971 trust implied that "adopted" descendants were excluded and demonstrated the trustors' intent that the 1971 trust benefit biological descendants only. The siblings also asserted the trustors defined "lineal descendants" in a manner different than the generic legal definition, while they defined "heirs" as all persons entitled to take by intestacy -– the primary, generic legal meaning. The Alabama Supreme Court found that at the time the 1971 trust was executed, there was no provision in the law authorizing the adoption of adults. "Although the Alabama Legislature enacted the Adult Adoption Act in 1973 authorizing the adoption of an adult for inheritance purposes, that act came into being two years after the 1971 trust was executed. ... [T]hose Code sections were repealed effective January 1, 1991, and replaced by the Alabama Adoption Code, section 26-10A-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. Accordingly, the probate court's judgment was affirmed on grounds that the law at the time the 1971 trust was executed did not allow adult adoption, that Samuel's adoption as an adult in 2016 did not make him a "lineal descendant" as that term was defined in the 1971 trust, and that, therefore, Samuel was not a beneficiary of the trust. View "Parris v. Ballantine et al." on Justia Law

by
Deitrick Bryant ("Deitrick") committed suicide in his cell while he was an inmate at the Greene County, Alabama jail. Deitrick's mother, as the administrator of his estate, sued two jail employees, alleging that their negligence allowed Deitrick's suicide to happen. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the jail employees, and Deitrick's mother appealed. "The controlling factor in determining whether there may be a recovery for a failure to prevent a suicide is whether the defendants reasonably should have anticipated that the deceased would attempt to harm himself." The Alabama Supreme Court determined Bryant failed to put forth evidence that would allow a factfinder to conclude that jail staff could have anticipated Deitrick's suicide. Accordingly, the summary judgment entered by the trial court was affirmed. View "Bryant v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

by
Virginia McDorman, conservator for Sim Moseley, appealed a probate court judgment awarding Ralph Moseley, Jr., attorney fees pursuant to the Alabama Litigation Accountability Act ("the ALAA"). Sim had a brother, Ralph Carmichael Moseley III ("Mike"), who was born during the marriage of Virginia and Ralph. Sim also had a half brother, Slate McDorman, who was born during the marriage of Virginia and her current husband, Clarence McDorman, Jr. In February 2013, Mike, as brother and next friend of Sim, petitioned the probate court to remove Virginia as Sim's conservator; among other things, he asked Ralph be appointed as successor conservator, and asked for an accounting of the conservatorship. During the pendency of the proceeding, a dispute arose about an IRA Ralph created and funded for Sim's benefit. During discovery, Virginia requested Ralph produce proof of contributions he made to the IRA; Ralph denied an IRA was established. Virginia submitted an accounting, along with a "Settlement Agreement" executed by Sim and by Virginia as conservator releasing Ralph from any and all claims related directly or indirectly to Ralph's funding or removing funds from the IRA Ralph attempted for Sim. Virginia also filed an affidavit signed by Ralph stating he agreed to withdraw any request that Virginia be removed as conservator for Sim's estate and affirming that his payment of $5,000 pursuant to the agreement was in exchange for a full release of all claims against him. In December 2015, more than a year and a half after the agreement and Ralph's affidavit were executed, Virginia and Sim moved to set aside the agreement, alleging Ralph had fraudulently induced them to execute the agreement by failing to truthfully answer discovery and by withholding information about the IRA. They stated Ralph closed the IRA and filed a fraudulent tax return on behalf of Sim, listing the IRA distribution as income, causing Sim to owe federal taxes and impacting his qualification for various governmental disability benefits. Ralph responded that Virginia and Sim were aware of the IRA when they signed the agreement; Ralph requested attorney fees he incurred as a result of responding to and opposing the motion to set aside the agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court determined an award of attorney fees relating to to defending the validity of the agreement in the probate court action was not erroneous; the Court reversed the probate court's amount of fees, remanding the issue for a determination of the appropriate amount of fees attributable to defending the validity of the agreement in the probate court action. In all other respects, the Court affirmed the judgment in favor of Ralph. View "McDorman v. Moseley, Jr." on Justia Law

by
N.G., Jr. ("father"); B.J.U., the father's legal guardian; and the N.G., Jr. Special Needs Trust, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief, to direct the Russell Juvenile Court to vacate an order transferring to the Russell Circuit Court a claim asserted by P.W. ("mother") alleging the fraudulent transfer of the father's assets in a case she filed seeking past-due child support. In 2005, the father was involved in an automobile accident and was rendered permanently disabled. His mother, B.J.U., was appointed as his guardian. Through B.J.U., the father commenced a personal-injury action seeking to recover compensation for injuries he sustained in the accident. The personal-injury action settled, and, in 2013, the settlement proceeds were placed in the special-needs trust. In August 2019, the mother filed a petition in the Russell Juvenile Court seeking to recover approximately $70,000 in past-due child support allegedly owed by the father. The mother also named B.J.U., in her individual capacity and as the father's guardian, as a defendant and alleged that she had secreted the father's assets. The mother asserted that placing the proceeds of the father's personal-injury settlement in the special-needs trust was a fraudulent transfer. She also added the special-needs trust as a defendant. The Alabama Supreme Court determined petitioners did not demonstrate the juvenile court was without power to transfer the mother's fraudulent-transfer claim to the circuit court. Accordingly, the Supreme Court denied the petition for relief. View "Ex parte N.G., Jr." on Justia Law

by
Defendants below, Sam Smith, director of the Calhoun County Department of Human Resources ("CCDHR"); Pamela McClellan, an adult-protective-services caseworker with CCDHR; and Teresa Ellis, McClellan's supervisor (referred to collectively as "petitioners"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate its order denying their motion for a summary judgment in a wrongful-death action filed by William David Streip ("David"), as the personal representative of the estate of his sister, Jerrie Leeann Streip ("Leeann"), and to enter a summary judgment in their favor on the basis of immunity. Leeann suffered from numerous serious physical, mental, and emotional conditions since birth; those conditions were exacerbated by brain surgery in 2013. Following that surgery, Leeann was released to a nursing-home facility before being discharged into the care of her father. Leeann subsequently reported to a CCDHR social worker that her father had raped her. As a result, an adult-protective-services case was opened under Alabama's Adult Protective Services Act ("the APSA"), and McClellan was assigned as Leeann's caseworker. Upon the conclusion of the ensuing investigation, CCDHR removed Leeann from her father's care. Leeann was placed at a Leviticus Place, a boarding home where she remained for approximately one week. There were no concerns about Leeann's well being, but McClellan was notified Leann had left Leviticus Place and did not return. A body located in Birmingham was later identified as Leeann's; her cause of death remains "undetermined." After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined petitioners established they were entitled to statutory immunity. They had a clear legal right to a summary judgment in their favor on that ground. The trial court was accordingly directed to vacate its order denying the petitioners' motion for a summary judgment and to enter a summary judgment in the petitioners' favor. View "Ex parte Sam Smith" on Justia Law

by
Berry Stephens petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Coffee Circuit Court to appoint him administrator ad litem of the estate of his mother, Louise Gennuso. The Supreme Court determined the estate's personal representative had an interest adverse to the estate. Therefore, the circuit court had a duty to appoint an administrator ad litem for the estate, but failed to do so. The Court thus granted Stephens' petition, and directed the circuit court to appoint Stephens as administrator ad litem for the estate of Gennuso. View "Ex parte Berry Stephens." on Justia Law

by
Michael Holt, the coexecutor of the estate of Geneva Holt, deceased, and the defendant in an action involving the estate, appealed a circuit court's judgment in favor of the plaintiff and coexecutor of the estate, Jere Holt. In October 2007, Jere and Michael's mother, Geneva Holt, died. In May 2008, Jere and Michael filed a petition to probate their mother's will. In August 2016, Jere filed a petition in the Walker Circuit Court to remove the proceedings from the probate court. In a separate motion, Jere asked the circuit court to construe the provisions of the will to allow the remaining assets in Geneva's estate to be used to satisfy a $140,000 cash bequest to him in Geneva's will. Michael filed a response to Jere's motion in which he asserted a counterclaim seeking a judgment declaring that the specific bequest to Jere had adeemed. In 2019, the circuit court entered an order in favor of Jere, holding that the cash bequest to Jere could be satisfied by selling assets of the estate. Michael appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court determined there was no order of removal from probate to circuit court. Without such order, the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the administration of Geneva's estate. The Supreme Court concluded the 2019 circuit court order was void, and this appeal was therefore dismissed. View "Holt v. Holt" on Justia Law

by
Joann Bashinsky petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief, seeking to direct the Jefferson Probate Court to vacate orders disqualifying her attorneys from representing her in the underlying proceedings and appointing a temporary guardian and conservator over her person and property. Bashinsky also sought dismissal of the "Emergency Petition for a Temporary Guardian and Conservator" that initiated the underlying proceedings and the petition for a permanent guardian and conservator filed simultaneously with the emergency petition in probate court, both of which were filed by John McKleroy and Patty Townsend. McKleroy had a professional relationship with Ms. Bashinsky that dated back to 1968, the year she and Sloan Bashinsky married. Townsend previously served the Bashinsky family as Mr. Bashinsky's executive assistant. She was the corporate secretary, controller, and chief financial officer at Golden Enterprises, and she served as Ms. Bashinsky's personal financial assistant beginning in 2017, often having daily contact with Ms. Bashinsky. At the time of the events in question, Ms. Bashinsky's personal estate was estimated to be worth $80 million, and her entire estate (including trusts and business assets) was valued at $218 million. Ms. Bashinsky's only blood relative was her daughter's only son, Landon Ash. The emergency petition, filed October 1, 2019, stated that loan amounts to Ash increased over time, and that Ash's total amount of indebtedness to Ms. Bashinsky at that time was approximately $23.5 million. Ash allegedly borrowed $13.4 million from Ms. Bashinsky in 2019 for his various business ventures. The emergency petition alleged that Ms. Bashinsky's financial transactions with Ash "are problematic in that, if the IRS were to review these loans, they might have tremendous tax consequences for Ms. Bashinsky." The petition stated McKleroy and Townsend witnessed a decline in Ms. Bashinsky's faculties in their discussions with her about financial matters. An evaluation from a geriatric physician at the University of Alabama opined Ms. Bashinsky suffered from dementia. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the permanent petition for appointing a guardian and conservator over the person and property of Ms. Bashinsky was not properly before the Supreme Court; mandamus relief with respect to that petition was denied. The Court determined an October 17, 2019 order appointing a temporary guardian and conservator for Ms. Bashinsky was void, as was the order disqualifying Ms. Bashinsky's counsel. The Supreme Court therefore granted the petition for the writ of mandamus as to those orders and directed the probate court to vacate its October 17, 2019, orders, to require the temporary guardian and conservator to account for all of Ms. Bashinsky's funds and property, and to dismiss the emergency petition. View "Ex parte Joann Bashinsky." on Justia Law