Justia Nebraska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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William Lorenz died in 2010. The county court admitted William’s last will and testament and two codicils to formal probate and also appointed William’s daughter, Theresa Lorenz, as personal representative of the estate. Alice Shea, William’s former wife, filed a petition challenging the rejection of her claims in the estate, seeking the appointment of a special administrator and challenging the second codicil of William’s will. The county court awarded summary judgment to Theresa except in regard to Alice’s claims regarding alimony and interest on a late payment. The court of appeals affirmed the county court’s order but modified the court’s dismissal of Alice’s request for the appointment of a special administrator to reflect that the request should have been dismissed without prejudice. Theresa petitioned for further review, assigning three errors relating to the issue of the special administrator. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the court of appeals (1) erred in concluding that Alice’s filing of her claims and petition for allowance of those claims was sufficient written demand under Neb. Rev. Stat. 30-2726; and (2) erred in modifying the dismissal of Alice’s request for the appointment of a special administrator without prejudice. View "In re Estate of Lorenz" on Justia Law
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After Eric Zornes won a lottery, Eric and his wife, Julia, commenced a gifting plan to Andy Wolfe, Jason Wolfe, and Jason Reed. These gifts were structured as loans, and each borrower made a promissory note for his loan, payable to Julia’s and Eric’s revocable trusts jointly. Andy’s note was secured by a deed of trust for real property. Julia and Eric later divorced pursuant to a settlement agreement. When Eric found that Andy’s house had been sold and that Julia had retained the proceeds of the sale, Eric filed this complaint alleging that Julia had converted the proceeds of Andy’s note. Julia counterclaimed for partition of the Jason Wolfe and Jason Reed notes. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Julia, concluding that even if Julia had converted the proceeds, the settlement agreement operated as an accord and satisfaction. The court also ordered partition of the promissory notes for Jason Wolfe’s and Jason Reed’s loans. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Eric was not entitled to summary judgment on his conversion claim; (2) the settlement agreement did not constitute an accord and satisfaction; and (3) the lower court erred in the method by which it partitioned the Jason Wolfe and Jason Reed notes. View "Zornes v. Zornes" on Justia Law

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The decedent in this case died in 2011. The contestants of her will objected to the petition to admit to probate either the decedent’s February 2011 will or her August 2001 will, alleging that the wills were invalid because the decedent lacked testamentary capacity and because the devises were the result of undue influence. After a trial, the jury found that the 2011 will was valid. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court properly refused to instruct the jury regarding a “presumption of undue influence”; and (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion responding to a jury question or in admitting, in part, a video of the execution of the 2001 will. View "In re Estate of Clinger" on Justia Law
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Under the terms of the will of Etta Jurgens (the decedent), Janice Litherland was to receive certain real estate if it was owned by Etta at the time of her death. Gary Jurgens (Jurgens) and Velda Lenners were also beneficiaries under the decedent’s will. Prior to the decedent’s death, Jurgens, as the decedent’s attorney in fact, sold the property. Under a separate provision of the will, the proceeds from the sale were deposited into the decedent’s bank accounts and divided equally among Litherland, Jurgens, and Lenners upon the decedent’s death. Litherland later brought this action against Jurgens and Lenners for unjust enrichment, intentional interference with an inheritance, and conspiracy. The district court dismissed Litherland’s action. Litherland appealed, challenging the district court’s dismissal of her claims for interference with an inheritance and conspiracy. At issue on appeal was whether Nebraska recognizes a cause of action for the tort of intentional interference with an inheritance. The Supreme Court declined to adopt the tort as a cause of action that is permitted in Nebraska and therefore affirmed the district court, concluding that without such an underlying tort, both of Litherland’s claims challenged on appeal failed. View "Litherland v. Jurgens" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and Judy Hoffman were divorced in 1994. Judy died intestate in 2007, and Plaintiff was named personal representative of her estate. Defendant, an attorney and Judy’s friend, was the beneficiary of two of Judy’s life insurance policies and her retirement account and received $236,024 from these accounts. Plaintiff brought an action against Defendant alleging breach of fiduciary duty arising out of the attorney-client relationship, breach of fiduciary duty arising out of the duty of a trustee, and conversion. The district court found for Defendant and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in (1) determining that an express trust needed to be created in order to find Defendant liable and in placing the burden to prove such trust on Plaintiff; (2) failing to impose a constructive trust on the insurance proceeds; (3) failing to find that Defendant deviated from the standard of care and committed legal malpractice by accepting and retaining Judy’s death benefit funds given his status as her attorney; and (4) admitting into evidence a photocopy of a note purportedly given from Judy to Defendant. View "Gallner v. Larson" on Justia Law

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Ellen Panec died after being injured in a motor vehicle accident. Ellen’s husband, William, was appointed the personal representative of her estate. The majority of Ellen’s estate passed to her daughter, Rebecca Griffin, as the remainder beneficiary. A lawsuit was filed against the driver of the other vehicle. William also made a claim against his and Ellen’s underinsurance carrier. Both the driver’s liability insurer and the underinsurance carrier offered to settle the claims. After a hearing, the county court approved the settlements and distributed the majority of the settlement proceeds to William. Although the proceeds flowed from both a survival claim and a wrongful death claim, the county court applied Neb. Rev. Stat. 30-810 - the wrongful death statute - to govern all distributions. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the county court with directions to allocate the settlement proceeds between the wrongful death and survival claims, to direct distribution of the wrongful death settlement proceeds, and to direct distribution of the survival claim proceeds to Griffin as the sole beneficiary of Ellen’s residuary probate estate, holding that because the proceeds included the settlement of the survival claim, the proceeds for the survival claim were wrongly distributed in accordance with section 30-810. View "In re Estate of Panec" on Justia Law

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Marvin Shell died in 2012. Jane Voboril, Shell’s niece, and Sharon Vanosdall, Shell’s sister-in-law, were the two beneficiaries of Shell’s will. The distributions to Voboril and Vanosdall were subject to different amounts of inheritance taxes. Voboril’s lawyer, however, argued that the will showed Shell’s intent to treat inheritance taxes as an expense of the estate. The county court agreed and entered an order treating the inheritance taxes as an expense of the estate. Vanosdall appealed, arguing that the will did not clearly express this intent. the Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the will showed Shell’s intent to treat inheritance taxes as an expense of his estate. View "In re Estate of Shell" on Justia Law
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The settlor (Settlor) directed her attorney to prepare an irrevocable trust, the corpus of which was three insurance policies, that named the attorney as the trustee (Trustee). The policies were payable on the Settlor’s death to the Trustee for the benefit of the Settlor’s daughters. The Trustee executed all three insurance policy applications. Each application provided the insurer with a false address for the trust. The policies subsequently lapsed for nonpayment of the premiums due. Although the insurers issued notices of nonpayment of the premiums, the Settlor, Trustee, and beneficiaries did not receive notice of the lapse until two years later. The Settlor and her daughters (collectively, Appellants) sued the Trustee, alleging that he breached his fiduciary duties as trustee and, as a result, the policies lapsed, resulting in the loss of the initial premiums. The trial court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the Trustee did not have a duty to pay the premiums or to notify anyone of the nonpayment of the premiums. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Trustee had a statutory duty, which arose when the insurers issued the notices of nonpayment of the premiums, to inform Appellants of the material facts necessary for them to protect their interests. View "Rafert v. Meyer" on Justia Law
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Edward Stuchlik died testate and was survived by his wife, Margaret Stuchlik, and five children, including John Stuchlik and Kenneth Stuchlik. John sought removal of Margaret as the personal representative of the Edward Stuchlik estate and removal of Margaret and Kenneth as cotrustees of the Edward Stuchlik Family Trust. John asked the court to appoint him as personal representative and trustee in their place. The county court entered judgment in favor of Margaret and Kenneth. The Supreme Court affirmed in most respects and reversed and remanded in part, holding (1) because Margaret was waiting to be discharged as personal representative pending the outcome of this action, any action for her removal as personal representative was without merit; (2) John’s arguments that Margaret and Kenneth should be removed as costrustees based on a theory of a contract for wills or an oral trust between Margaret and Edward were irrelevant to the petition to remove a costrustee; but (3) the court erred in concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to consider allegations pertaining to the extent Margaret’s and Kenneth’s activities as general partners of a partnership related to their fitness as costrustees. View "In re Estate of Stuchlik" on Justia Law
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At issue in this appeal were certain parcels of land included in the corpus of a trust established by Virginia Waechter. In 2010, Virginia sold the parcels as trustee of the trust to her daughter Peggy Orr and her daughter’s husband, Jeff Orr. Plaintiffs, Virginia’s son and other contingent beneficiaries of the trust filed a complaint asking that a constructive trust be placed on the real estate and alleging that Virginia was not competent to sell the land to Peggy and Jeff and that the sale showed indications of fraud. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that Plaintiffs lacked standing to seek a constructive trust and that Neb. Rev. Stat. 30-3855(a) bars a cause of action for intentional interference with an inheritance or gift. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiffs lacked standing to impose a constructive trust because, under case law and section 30-3855(a), they had only a mere expectancy; and (2) state law does not recognize a tort for intentional interference with an inheritance or gift. View "Manon v. Orr" on Justia Law
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