Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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George Bates and David Joyner appealed a circuit court order approving a final judicial accounting of the administration of a trust pursuant to 19-3B-205, Ala. Code 1975. Because the trial court did not certify its order as final pursuant to Rule 54(b) and because its order contemplated further action on behalf of the trustee, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the order at issue here was not a final appealable order. Accordingly, the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain Bates and Joyner's appeal. View "Bates v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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The Alabama Supreme Court granted Clifford Goodman Wright, the administrator of the estate of Mary Evelyn Wright, permission to appeal a circuit court interlocutory order. In that order, the trial court ruled that the $100,000 cap on damages set out in section 11-93-2, Ala. Code 1975, applied to Wright's claims against three nurses, Dawn Reid, Phyllis Harris, and Tuwanda Worrills, who were employees of the Cleburne County Hospital Board, Inc., d/b/a Cleburne County Nursing Home ("the Hospital Board"), at the times relevant to Wright's action. Section 11-93-2 governed "[t]he recovery of damages under any judgment against a [county or municipal] governmental entity." Because Wright sued the nurses seeking money damages in their individual capacities, the trial court erred in applying section 11-93-2 to Wright's claims. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Wright v. Cleburne County Hospital Board, Inc." on Justia Law

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Robert Wehle died in 2002. The will created a marital trust for Wehle's wife, Gatra Wehle, and a family trust for his daughters and Wehle's granddaughter, Debbie Kloppenberg. The personal representatives were named as cotrustees of both the marital trust and the family trust. In 2005, the personal representatives petitioned the probate court for final settlement of the estate. They also filed an accounting of their administration of the estate. The accounting indicated that the personal representatives had paid themselves total compensation of $1,964,367.82, which, they alleged was 5% of the value of Wehle's estate at the time the petition for final settlement was filed, and was consistent with the statutory allowance for such fees. Further, the personal representatives maintained the decedent intended for the fees to be approximately 5% of the value of his estate. The daughters filed an objection to the accounting, arguing, among other things, that, pursuant to 43-2-844(7), Ala. Code 1975, the personal representatives were required to obtain prior court approval before compensating themselves out of the assets of the estate. The daughters also argued that the amount of the compensation exceeded the "reasonable compensation" allowed by 43- 2-848(a), Ala. Code 1975. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the representatives' payment without prior authorization was not expressly authorized by the will, and the circuit court erred in granting partial summary judgment with respect to the fees. On remand, the circuit court held the $1,964,367.82 was "reasonable compensation" under 43-2-848(a), Ala. Code 1975. This award was appealed, with the Supreme Court rejecting the daughters' challenges to the reasonableness of the fees awarded to the personal representatives and the circuit court's refusal to remove a trustee. However, the Court agreed the circuit court erred in denying their claim seeking to recover interest from the date of the premature compensation payments through the date those payments were finally approved by the circuit court. The Court also agreed the circuit court erred "insofar as it determined the amount of the attorney fees" due the personal representatives in connection with their defense of the daughters' claims. Further, the Court held the circuit court had, as the daughters alleged, violated its mandate in the first appeal to tax the costs of the appeal in that case against the personal representatives. Still aggrieved, the parties appealed and cross-appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that because the personal representatives failed to demonstrate that the circuit court erred in awarding only the fees the personal representatives demonstrated that they actually incurred, the Supreme Court affirmed that portion of the circuit court's judgment. View "Wehle v. Bradley" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Appellants Tomeka and Marlon McElroy appealed a circuit court judgment denying their will contest. In 2010, Tracy McElroy filed a petition to probate the will of Clifton McElroy, Jr. Tracy was the executrix; the will was self-proving in accordance with the requirements of section 43-8-132, Ala. Code 1975. The probate court admitted the will to probate and issued letters testamentary to Tracy. Later that year, appellants filed a will contest in the probate court, alleging that Clifton's signature on the will was forged and that, therefore, the will was not properly executed. Appellants were both Clifton's heirs and beneficiaries under his will, and demanded that their will contest be transferred to the circuit court pursuant to 43-8-198, Ala. Code 1975. Tracy moved to dismiss the will contest, arguing that because the will had already been admitted to probate, the contest could not ben filed pursuant to 43-8-190, Ala. Code 1975. Generally, "[o]nce the administration and settlement of an estate are removed from the probate court, the probate court loses jurisdiction over the estate, and the circuit court obtains and maintains jurisdiction until the final settlement of the case." However, in this case, the administration of Clifton's estate was not properly removed from the probate court; therefore, the circuit court never obtained jurisdiction over the administration of Clifton's estate. Thus, the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to consider the will contest, and the judgment entered by the circuit court on the will contest was void. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed. View "McElroy v. McElroy" on Justia Law

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Candy Parkhurst ("Parkhurst"), personal representative of the estate of her husband, Andrew P. Parkhurst ("Andrew"), deceased, file suit to compel Carter C. Norvell and Parkhurst & Norvell, an accounting firm Norvell had operated as a partnership with Andrew ("the partnership"), to arbitrate a dispute regarding the dissolution of the partnership. Pursuant to an arbitration provision in a dissolution agreement Norvell and Andrew had executed before Andrew's death, the trial court ultimately ordered arbitration and stayed further proceedings until arbitration was complete. Subsequently, however, Parkhurst moved the trial court to lift the stay and to enter a partial summary judgment resolving certain aspects of the dispute in her favor. After the trial court lifted the stay and scheduled a hearing on Parkhurst's motion, Norvell and the partnership appealed, arguing that the trial court was effectively failing to enforce the terms of a valid arbitration agreement in violation of the Federal Arbitration Act. The Alabama Supreme Court determined there was no evidence in the record indicating that Norvell made such an agreement and he, in fact, denied doing so. In the absence of any evidence that would establish such an agreement, as well as any other evidence that would conclusively establish that Norvell clearly and unequivocally expressed an intent to waive his right to have the arbitrator resolve this dispute. As such, Parkhurst failed to meet her burden of showing that the arbitration provision in the dissolution agreement should not have been enforced. Accordingly, the trial court erred by lifting the arbitral stay in order to consider Parkhurst's motion for a partial summary judgment, and its judgment doing so was reversed and remanded. View "Norvell v. Parkhurst" on Justia Law

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Douglas Ghee, as personal representative of the estate of Billy Fleming, deceased, appealed a circuit court order dismissing his wrongful-death claim against USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas ("Blue Advantage"). The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed this appeal as being from a nonfinal order. View "Ghee v. USAble Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Douglas Ghee, as personal representative of the estate of Billy Fleming, deceased, appealed a circuit court order dismissing his wrongful-death claim against USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas ("Blue Advantage"). The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed this appeal as being from a nonfinal order. View "Ghee v. USAble Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Alice Lynn Harper Taylor ("Alice") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directed to the Monroe Probate Court, requesting that court enter orders: (1) reinstating her petition to probate a will allegedly executed by Alice Earle Harper in 2007; (2) reinstating her petition contesting the 2007 will; and (3) transferring her contest of the 2007 will to the Monroe Circuit Court pursuant to 43-8-198, Ala. Code 1975. The decedent died in 2013. Alice filed to probate the decedent’s 1995 will in Monroe County. Approximately one year later, one of Alice’s brothers, William, moved to dismiss Alice’s petition, and filed in Escambia County a will drafted in 2007, purporting to revoke the 1995 will. Alice challenged the validity of the 2007 will; William challenged the 1995 will. The Probate court determined Monroe County was the proper venue, but ruled in favor of William and the 2007 will. The Alabama Supreme Court found neither the 1995 will nor the 2007 will was determined to be the decedent’s last will. Where several wills and will contests are filed, the Supreme Court has approved of the consolidation of such proceedings. Monroe County was the proper venue to hear the matter. The Court found the Monroe Probate Court erred in dismissing Alice’s petition to probate the 2007 will and her contest of that will. There was no dispute at to whether Alice made the prima facie showing required under 43-8-198. Thus, she was entitled to an order transferring that will contest to the Monroe Circuit Court. View "Ex parte Alice Lynn Harper Taylor." on Justia Law

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Janice Pickens appealed a probate court order denying the admission to probate of a will on the basis that the will was not signed by at least two witnesses as required by section 43-8-131, Ala. Code 1975. The Alabama Supreme Court found section 43-8-131 was not ambiguous, and that there was “simply nothing in the statute that would prohibit a notary public from serving as a witness. Indeed, the fact that Ingram signed the will in her capacity as a notary public is immaterial to her qualification to serve as a witness to the will because 43-8-131 does not require that the signatures of the testator or the witnesses be notarized. The important fact here is not the capacity in which Ingram executed the document, i.e., as a notary public, but rather that she observed [the testator’s] signing of the document and affixed her signature thereto. We see no reason to exclude Ingram as a witness simply because she signed in her official capacity as a notary public.” View "Pickens v. Estate of Donald Harrison Fenn" on Justia Law

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Darlene Slamen, Charles Martin, Wilhelmina Martin, and Harris Partnership, LLP ("Harris LLP") (collectively "the defendants"), appealed a circuit court order granting Herbert Slamen's motion for a preliminary injunction. Herbert and Darlene married in 1981 and later formed Harris LLP, of which Herbert, Darlene, Charles, and Wilhelmina each owned a 25% share. In 2008, Herbert was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and, in 2010, he moved to Thailand because, Darlene said, he wanted "to enjoy what remained of his life." After moving to Thailand, Herbert was dependent upon Darlene to send him the proceeds generated from his assets so that he could pay for living expenses and medical treatment. Payments in an agreed amount were deposited in a checking account in Thailand set up in Herbert's name. In addition to his interest in Harris LLP, Herbert's assets included a house in Alabama, a house in Florida, and an interest in the dental practice from which Herbert had retired. In 2013, Herbert, via his attorney in fact, established the Herbert A. Slamen Revocable Living Trust ("the trust") to facilitate the management of his assets, and he thereafter transferred his assets, including his interest in Harris LLP, to the trust. Herbert was the beneficiary of the trust, and both he and Darlene were the appointed cotrustees. In 2016, Herbert sued the defendants, alleging that he had revoked the trust but that Darlene, purportedly under her authority as cotrustee, had nevertheless transferred the assets of the trust to herself. As a result, Herbert alleged, the defendants had "failed to distribute proceeds from [Harris LLP] to [Herbert] and instead made all payments directly to Darlene." Herbert filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in which he requested that the trial court enjoin the defendants "from disbursing funds and profits from [Harris LLP] and requiring [the defendants] to keep all funds and profits in the regular business account of [Harris LLP] until the resolution of this case." The motion was granted, and the defendants appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding the underlying causes of action asserted in Herbert's complaint were actions at law that alleged only monetary loss and sought only to recover monetary damages for that alleged loss. Thus, Herbert's alleged injury was not irreparable, given that it can be adequately redressed with the monetary damages he sought if he was able to prove that the defendants wrongfully divested him of the proceeds generated from his assets. View "Slamen v. Slamen" on Justia Law