Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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The dispute at the center of this case concerned an intestate estate. On appeal, one of the decedent’s two children argued that the county court erred in (1) approving the final accounting and ordering distribution accordingly, and (2) naming the decedent’s daughter-in-law as an heir at law. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the county court (1) erred when it included certain nonprobate assets in the intestate estate and when it found that the decedent’s daughter-in-law was an heir at law, and (2) did not err in excluding certain assets from the intestate estate. Remanded. View "In re Estate of Balvin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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In 2006, a Colorado court entered a decree for adult adoption making Plaintiff, who was fifty-eight years old at the time, the heir of Merrill Maddocks under the intestacy laws. In 2014, Merrill died without leaving any surviving children. Plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint to quiet title to a section of farmland, arguing that he was the owner of the property because he was the “eldest son” of Merrill under the will of Merrill’s great-uncle. Defendant, the person who takes the property if Plaintiff is not Merrill’s “eldest son,” argued that Plaintiff was not Merrill’s eldest son under the will because “it was not legally possible to adopt an adult” in Nebraska when the great-uncle died. The trial court quieted title in the property in Plaintiff, concluding that Plaintiff was Merrill’s eldest son because the Colorado decree was entitled to full faith and credit in Nebraska. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because Merrill and Plaintiff did not have a parent-child relationship, Plaintiff was not Merrill’s “eldest son” under the great-uncle’s will. Remanded with directions to quiet title to the property in Defendant. View "Burnett v. Maddocks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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After Emil Alberts died, Lois Alberts, his surviving spouse, authorized her attorney to file a petition on her behalf to elect to take one-half of Emil’s augmented estate pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. 30-2313. Emil’s two nephews (Appellants), as coperaonal representatives of Emil’s estate and as beneficiaries of Emil’s trust, objected to the petition’s validity and to the calculation of Lois’ elective share within it. The county court found that Lois’ petition for elective share was validly filed and that certain trust property should be included in the augmented estate for purposes of calculating Lois’ elective share. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the county court did not err in finding that the petition for elective share was validly filed; but (2) the county court erred in failing to rule that the value of the trust property at issue should be excluded from the augmented estate under Neb. Rev. Stat. 30-2314(c)(2). Remanded. View "In re Estate of Alberts" on Justia Law

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Before Genevieve Franke’s death in 2014, she had been a resident of a nursing home. In 2013, Genevieve agreed to sell her farmland to her son John Franke at a price below its fair market value. Laurie Berggren, Genevieve's daughter, subsequently petitioned for the appointment of a conservator. The court appointed Laurie as Genevieve’s temporary conservator and Cornerstone Bank as Genevieve’s permanent conservator. Both Genevieve and John appealed. Before the parties filed briefs, Genevieve’s attorney filed a suggestion of death stating that Genevieve had died. Genevieve, through her attorney of record, sought an order to dismiss the appeal as moot and to vacate the county court’s order appointing a permanent conservator. John, in turn, moved for an order reviving the appeal. The Supreme Court overruled both of these motions, holding (1) Genevieve’s attorney has no standing to represent her in the Court after her death; (2) Genevieve’s death has abated John’s appeal, for which he has standing, because her competency and need for a conservator are moot issues; and (3) the abatement of John’s appeal does not require the Court to vacate the county court’s orders appointing a conservator. View "In re Conservatorship of Franke" on Justia Law

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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

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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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

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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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