Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Trusts & Estates
Kawzinski v. Lyne
Sheryl Lyne, individually and as the personal representative of the estate of Robert L. Kawzinski, filed suit against Debra Ann Kawzinski ("Debra Ann") to quiet title to a piece of real property to which Lyne and Debra Ann both claimed an ownership interest. Lyne further requested that the circuit court require the property to be sold and the proceeds divided among the rightful owners of the property. The circuit court entered a summary judgment in favor of Lyne. Debra Ann appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed Debra Ann's appeal as untimely filed. View "Kawzinski v. Lyne" on Justia Law
Upchurch v. Upchurch
Michael Upchurch, his brother David Upchurch, and his nephew Jason Upchurch owned several pieces of real property as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. They signed a contract to sell the properties to third parties. However, before closing, Michael died. In this declaratory-judgment action, Michael's widow Carol Upchurch, individually and as the executor of Michael's estate, asserted, among other things, a claim to one-third of the proceeds from that sale. David and Jason filed a motion for a summary judgment, which the circuit court granted. The Alabama Supreme Court held that under the circumstances, Michael, David, and Jason's decision to enter into a contract to sell the properties severed their joint tenancy and that, as a result, Michael's estate was entitled to one-third of the proceeds from the sale of properties. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the trial court's judgment and remand the case for the entry of a judgment in favor of the estate. View "Upchurch v. Upchurch" on Justia Law
McKleroy Jr., et al. v. Ash, et al.
Tamera Erskine, as the personal representative of the estate of Joann Bashinsky ("Ms. Bashinsky") appealed: (1) a probate court order awarding fees to the temporary guardian and conservator for Ms. Bashinsky previously appointed by the probate court; and (2) an order awarding fees to a guardian ad litem appointed to represent Ms. Bashinsky in a proceeding seeking the appointment of a permanent guardian and conservator filed by John P. McKleroy, Jr., and Patty Townsend. McKleroy and Townsend separately appealed the probate court's order dismissing with prejudice of all remaining pending matters following Ms. Bashinsky's death. At issue in this case was whether Ms. Bashinsky was competent and had the capacity to manage her considerable financial estate. When the case was filed, no one knew how long she would survive or whether she was sufficiently competent to continue to care for her financial security. The Alabama Supreme Court granted McKleroy and Townsend's motion to dismiss appeal no. 1210153. As to Erskine's appeal, no. 1200401, the Court determined the December 11, 2020, order awarding fees to Hawley and his attorneys was not a "final settlement" of a guardianship or conservatorship, and it was not otherwise a final judgment, and therefore it was not an appealable order. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed and the case remanded for the probate to enter a final judgment. View "McKleroy Jr., et al. v. Ash, et al." on Justia Law
Allie Construction, Inc. v. Mosier
Allie Construction, Inc., obtained writs of garnishment against the estate of Willard Mosier one day shy of the 20th anniversary of obtaining a judgment against his widow Debra Mosier, a beneficiary of his estate. The Alabama Supreme Court found Allie Construction properly commenced an enforcement action, and that action should be allowed to proceed. In reaching a contrary conclusion, the Supreme Court found the circuit court erred. The circuit court judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Allie Construction, Inc. v. Mosier" on Justia Law
Bethel v. Franklin, et al.
Orlando Bethel appealed a circuit court order denying his motion for a preliminary injunction. 2022, Zoe Sozo Bethel died intestate in Florida; she was survived by her spouse, Brennan James Franklin (spouse), and their five-year-old daughter. After the decedent's death, the spouse arranged for the body to be cremated in Florida and had the cremated remains shipped to Hughes Funeral Home and Crematory in Alabama, where the spouse's mother, Mikki Franklin, was employed. A dispute arose between the spouse and the decedent's father, Orlando Bethel, concerning the right to control the disposition of the ashes. Bethel filed an emergency petition seeking a determination that the spouse and decedent had been estranged at the time of the decedent's death and that the spouse had therefore forfeited his right as an "authorizing agent" to control the disposition of ashes. Bethel requested that he, rather than the spouse, be granted the right to control the disposition of the ashes. While the probate action was pending, the father filed a motion at circuit court for a temporary restraining order or, alternatively, for a preliminary injunction enjoining the spouse, the spouse's mother, and the funeral home ("the defendants") from further "dividing, diminishing, splitting up or otherwise disposing of" the ashes. A five-day restraining order was entered, but ultimately the preliminary injunction was not, and later the probate entered a final order dismissing the father's petition. The probate court did not address the father's allegation that the spouse and the decedent had been estranged at the time of the decedent's death. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court exceeded its discretion in denying the father's motion for a preliminary injunction pending a final hearing on the merits of the probate appeal. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Bethel v. Franklin, et al." on Justia Law
Davis v. Hamilton
Defendants Levorn and Levern Davis appealed a circuit court's judgment in favor of the estate of Henry Brim. In 2006, Brim sold property to Levern, executing a promissory note and mortgage for a principal of $56,000. The interest rate was 7% per year, and payments were to be made monthly. The final installment was scheduled to be August 2045. On April 16, 2015, Levern executed a quitclaim deed in which he transferred his interest in the property to his brother, Levorn. In 2017, Brim filed suit, alleging defendants were in default on the promissory note and mortgage. Defendants denied they were in default and disputed the balance owed on the note. Brim asked the trial court to enter a judgment declaring that defendants were in default; to determine the amount still owed on the promissory note; and to authorize Brim to foreclose the mortgage. Brim died in 2019; Darryl Hamilton, as the personal representative to Brim's estate, was substituted as plaintiff. Defendants unsuccessfully challenged Hamilton's substitution into the promissory note action. The circuit court thereafter found defendants were in default on the promissory note and mortgage, the amount owed was $26,125.50; and that Hamilton could proceed with foreclosure proceedings. Defendants argued on appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court that the trial court erroneously denied their motion to reconsider the order substituting Hamilton as the plaintiff and to dismiss the action pursuant to Rule 25(a)(1), Ala. R. Civ. P., because the motion for substitution was not filed until nearly 31 months after the filing of the suggestion of death. The Supreme Court found after review of the trial court record that the trial court exceeded its discretion when it denied defendants' motion to reconsider and dismiss the action pursuant to Rule 25(a)(1), Ala. R. Civ. P. The trial court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for the trial court to set aside its order substituting Hamilton as plaintiff, set aside its order finding defendants in default of the note and mortgage, and to dismiss the action pursuant to Rule 25(a)(1). View "Davis v. Hamilton" on Justia Law
Erskine v. Guin, et al.
Tamera Erskine, as the personal representative of the estate of Joann Bashinsky ("Ms. Bashinsky"), deceased, appealed: (1) a probate court order awarding fees to the temporary guardian and conservator for Ms. Bashinsky previously appointed by the probate court; and (2) an order awarding fees to a guardian ad litem appointed to represent Ms. Bashinsky in a proceeding seeking the appointment of a permanent guardian and conservator filed by John McKleroy, Jr., and Patty Townsend. McKleroy and Townsend separately appealed the probate court's dismissal with prejudice of all remaining pending matters following Ms. Bashinsky's death. Ms. Bashinsky was the widow of Sloan Bashinsky, who owned the majority stock in Golden Enterprises, Inc., and who was the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Golden Flake Foods ("Golden Flake"). McKleroy and Townsend, two former Golden Flake employees who had professional relationships with Ms. Bashinsky, alleged that Ms. Bashinsky was incapable of caring for herself and for her assets, which were then valued at approximately $218 million. McKleroy and Townsend's allegations of Ms. Bashinsky's incompetence centered on her request that Level Four Advisory Services LLC, which held approximately $35 million of Ms. Bashinsky's personal assets, transfer $17.5 million to David Heath at investment firm Morgan Stanley. McKleroy and Townsend further alleged that the transferred assets would end up being controlled by Ms. Bashinsky's grandson, Landon Ash, whom they alleged had already accumulated $23.5 million in total indebtedness to Ms. Bashinsky and whom they alleged exerted undue influence upon Ms. Bashinsky. The Alabama Supreme Court granted McKleroy and Townsend's motion to dismiss. The Court determined the order awarding attorney fees was not a "final settlement" of a guardianship or conservatorship, and it was not otherwise a final judgment, and therefore it was not an appealable order. Accordingly, Erskine's appeal was dismissed, and the matter remanded for the probate court to enter a proper final judgment in this case. View "Erskine v. Guin, et al." on Justia Law
Drinkard, et al. v. Perry, et al.
Milton Turner died on July 25, 2018. On September 20, 2018, Mildred Williamson petitioned for letters of administration of Turner's estate in the probate court. In her petition, Williamson asserted that Turner had died intestate and that Williamson was Turner's only surviving heir. In 2019, Williamson, individually and in her capacity as the personal representative of Turner's estate, entered into a contract agreeing to sell to Matthew Drinkard and Jefferson Dolbare ("the purchasers") real property belonging to the estate for $880,650. The real-estate sales contract specified that the closing of the sale was to occur on or before May 31, 2019. On February 7, 2019, Williamson, individually and in her capacity as personal representative of Turner's estate, executed a deed conveying other real property that was part of Turner's estate to Marcus Hester. On February 13, 2019, Callway Sargent, alleging to be an heir of Turner's, filed a claim of heirship in Turner's estate. Sargent also moved for injunctive relief in which he acknowledged the February 7, 2019, deed, but asserted that Williamson had agreed to sell and had conveyed real property belonging to Turner's estate without the approval of the probate court, and requested that the probate court enjoin "Williamson from engaging in any further administration of [Turner's] estate until so ordered by [the probate court]." Williamson petitioned to have the case removed fro probate to the circuit court. From February 28, 2019, to March 18, 2019, a number of individuals came forward, all claiming to be Turner's heirs. Williamson moved to have the circuit court approve the pending property sales. Williamson and the purchasers did not close on the sale of the property that was the subject of their real-estate sales contract by May 31, 2019, as required by the contract. Some of the purported heirs petitioned the circuit court to stay or vacate the order approving the purchasers contact until matters regarding the heirs was resolved. Drinkard and Dolbare filed a motion to intervene in the proceedings regarding the administration of Turner's estate, but the circuit court denied the motion. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's denial of the purchasers' motion to intervene in the administration of Turner's estate. View "Drinkard, et al. v. Perry, et al." on Justia Law
Barnett v. Hull
Gwendolyn Barnett appealed orders granting relief to Robert Lee Hull, Jr. Barnett and Hull are siblings and the sole legal heirs of their father, Robert Lee Hull, Sr. ("Robert"), who died testate. Pursuant to Robert's will, Hull and Barnett were listed as beneficiaries entitled to equal shares of his estate and Barnett was named personal representative of his estate. Hull filed a complaint against Barnett, arguing that in her role as "a partial caretaker of [Robert]" before his death, had exerted undue influence over Robert and had gained control of Robert's personal property and assets. According to Hull, in the absence of Barnett's purported misconduct, items that Barnett allegedly misappropriated would "have become part of [Robert's] estate." Barnett moved ti dismiss her brother's tort action, claiming that Hull's complaint in the tort action realleged claims purportedly "identical" to claims that Hull had previously asserted in the estate administration, which had been dismissed. The trial court granted Hull's motion in full and denied Barnett's motion to dismiss. On appeal, among other things, Barnett contended the trial court lacked jurisdiction over Hull's claims in the tort action, which she described as "central to the administration of the estate," while the estate administration remained separately pending. In her filings to the Supreme Court, Barnett characterized Hull's claims as "seek[ing] to identify property which he alleges should have been considered property of the Estate ... in the [first-filed] estate administration." To this, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed. Therefore, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over matters relating to the pending estate administration, and lacked jurisdiction to enter the the injunctive order or the subsequent show-cause order compelling Barnett's compliance with the injunctive order. The Supreme Court thus reversed all orders entered by the trial court in the tort action and remanded the matter for that court to enter an order dismissing Hull's complaint. View "Barnett v. Hull" on Justia Law
The Lem Harris Rainwater Family Trust, et al. v. Rainwater
Charles Edward Rainwater, Jean Rainwater Loggins, The Lem Harris Rainwater Family Trust, and the Rainwater Marital Trust appealed a circuit court's final judgment enforcing a settlement agreement in the litigation involving four siblings and the family trusts. They challenged three aspects of the judgment: its enforcement of the settlement agreement, its denial of a motion to dissolve a prior order enforcing the settlement agreement, and its denial of a motion to quash a garnishment. Because the court failed to hold an evidentiary hearing on enforcement of the settlement agreement, because the prior enforcement order was improper, and because any award on which the garnishment could have been based was being reversed, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the judgment as to all three aspects. View "The Lem Harris Rainwater Family Trust, et al. v. Rainwater" on Justia Law