Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

by
Allen Avery (testator) died testate in 2008 and left property to his spouse and children. His spouse, children, and the executor of the estate disputed how the estate’s administrative expenses should have been allocated. The civil division determined that expenses should be paid out of spouse’s share of the personal estate until paid in full or until they exhaust her share, and that children’s share of the personalty should contribute to administrative expenses only if spouse’s share of the personalty is insufficient. Spouse appealed. Finding no error in that judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Avery v. Estate of Allen D. Avery" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

by
In consolidated appeals, an executor of an estate sued the clinic and physician's assistant who treated the decedent for wrongful death. The trial court dismissed the case because plaintiff failed to file a certificate of merit, as was required by statute. The refiled case was dismissed as untimely. The executor appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which reviewed the trial court's dismissals and found that dismissal was proper in both cases. View "Quinlan v. Five-Town Health Alliance, Inc., dba Mountain Health Center" on Justia Law

by
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Richard Hayes developed a subdivision called Mountain View Estates on land jointly owned by him and his wife, Nadine Hayes, in the Town of Manchester. The subdivision grew to include forty residential homes, a school building, and a chiropractic clinic on forty-four lots. From the sale of the first lot in about 1981 until his death in 2004, Richard Hayes paid for maintenance and plowing of the roads that ran through the subdivision and maintained the subdivision’s sewer system and the portion of the water system that he and his wife still owned, without charge to the homeowners. Following the Hayes’ deaths in 2004, a probate proceeding was opened and the Hayes’ adult children, Jeffrey Hayes and Deborah Hayes McGraw, were appointed coadministrators of their estates. The co-administrators sent a letter to the homeowners in the subdivision stating that effective immediately, the homeowners would be responsible for maintaining and plowing the subdivision’s roads. The homeowners refused to assume responsibility for the road maintenance. The homeowners intervened in the probate proceedings of the Hayes’ estates to protect their rights regarding the subdivision. The estates appealed the trial court’s decision that the estates were obligated, based on an agreement between the developers and the homeowners, to continue to maintain and repair the roads and water and sewer systems until the town accepted the dedication of the infrastructure. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the court’s findings and conclusions, and remanded the matter to the trial court for remand to the probate division for further proceedings. View "Hayes v. Mountain View Estates Homeowners Association" on Justia Law

by
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Richard Hayes developed a subdivision called Mountain View Estates on land jointly owned by him and his wife, Nadine Hayes, in the Town of Manchester. The subdivision grew to include forty residential homes, a school building, and a chiropractic clinic on forty-four lots. From the sale of the first lot in about 1981 until his death in 2004, Richard Hayes paid for maintenance and plowing of the roads that ran through the subdivision and maintained the subdivision’s sewer system and the portion of the water system that he and his wife still owned, without charge to the homeowners. Following the Hayes’ deaths in 2004, a probate proceeding was opened and the Hayes’ adult children, Jeffrey Hayes and Deborah Hayes McGraw, were appointed coadministrators of their estates. The co-administrators sent a letter to the homeowners in the subdivision stating that effective immediately, the homeowners would be responsible for maintaining and plowing the subdivision’s roads. The homeowners refused to assume responsibility for the road maintenance. The homeowners intervened in the probate proceedings of the Hayes’ estates to protect their rights regarding the subdivision. The estates appealed the trial court’s decision that the estates were obligated, based on an agreement between the developers and the homeowners, to continue to maintain and repair the roads and water and sewer systems until the town accepted the dedication of the infrastructure. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the court’s findings and conclusions, and remanded the matter to the trial court for remand to the probate division for further proceedings. View "Hayes v. Mountain View Estates Homeowners Association" on Justia Law

by
At issue in this appeal was the status of a revocable trust that husband’s parents established in 1999. The parties married in 1984 and have two children (now adults); they divorced in 2014. The grantor amended the revocable trust that changed the beneficiary from husband to husband’s son, thereby keeping the trust property out of the marital estate and shielding it from wife’s claims. Wife appealed the family division’s final property division award. In particular, she challenged the trial court’s refusal to enforce a subpoena requiring grantor father to testify about the trust and his capacity to change its beneficiary and argued the family court should have included the trust assets as part of the marital estate. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Collins v. Collins" on Justia Law

by
The Vermont Supreme Court rejected plaintiff’s request to extend an exception to the general rule to the circumstances of this case, which wanted to impose on attorneys a duty to prospective beneficiaries of undrafted, unexecuted wills. Doing so, in the Court’s view, would undermine the duty of loyalty that an attorney owes to his or her client and invite claims premised on speculation regarding the testator’s intent. Plaintiff filed a complaint against both defendant and his law firm alleging that defendant committed legal malpractice and consumer fraud, specifically alleging defendant breached a duty of care by failing to advise mother on matters of her estate and failing to draft a codicil reflecting her intent. The court granted defendants a partial motion to dismiss on the consumer fraud allegation. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, adding another count of legal malpractice. This amended complaint alleged that defendant breached a duty owed to plaintiff to the extent that he could have successfully challenged mother’s will. According to plaintiff, he filed six affidavits from mother’s relatives, friends, and neighbors indicating that mother was committed to leaving a House she owned to plaintiff. Defendants again moved for summary judgment in which they argued that an attorney did not owe “a duty to a non-client prospective beneficiary of a nonexistent will or other estate planning document.” The trial court ruled there was no duty to beneficiaries of a client’s estate under Vermont law. The Supreme Court agreed. View "Strong v. Fitzpatrick" on Justia Law

by
This case involved a revocable trust established by Virginia Newman. Her two sons, Roger and Frank Lamson, were both beneficiaries and trustees of the trust. Roger filed an action in the probate division alleging breach of trust by Frank. The court ruled in Roger’s favor on his claim arising from Frank’s personal use of Virginia’s vehicles. Frank appealed and the civil division granted Frank summary judgment on that claim. Roger filed this appeal, arguing that the civil division erred in concluding Frank did not violate his fiduciary obligation and in failing to award damages for Frank’s use of the vehicle. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Lamson v. Lamson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

by
Paternal grandmother and paternal aunt appealed a decision by the probate court dismissing their petition for guardianship over N.P., and a decision declaring as moot their motion to transfer guardianship proceedings to the family court. The probate court dismissed the petition for appointment of guardian because it believed it “may not even consider a Petition for Appointment of Guardian” because the family division “has exclusive jurisdiction over the child.” The Supreme Court concluded that while the probate court was correct in asserting the general statement on jurisdiction, it failed to recognize the responsibilities imposed upon it when confronted with the petition for guardianship and the motion to transfer the cause to the family division. It failed to comply with the statutory procedures set forth in Title 14 designed to avoid judicial duplication and confusion and to assist in prompt resolution of child custody issues. The Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded the probate court for further proceedings. View "In re Guardianship of N.P." on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

by
Testator Elaine A. Holbrook died on February 3, 2013. She was survived by six children, including appellant-executors David and Cheryl Holbrook, appellee Amy Holbrook, and seven grandchildren, including appellant-grandson Charles Holbrook III. Testator did not have a surviving spouse. Testator signed a three-page handwritten document entitled "My Last Will & Testament." The will was in the form of a letter and was addressed "To all my children." The main source of contention between testator’s children reads: "In the event that I don’t make it through surgery on Thurs the 23rd of Jan. ’03, I wish to bequeath you all of the property and personal belongings divided equally to the six of you & to the seven grandchildren." Testator did, in fact, survive the surgery in January 2003 and lived for ten more years before her death in 2013. In April 2013, appellee Amy Holbrook filed a motion with the probate court seeking clarification of the will. Appellant-executors responded with two motions questioning whether the will was properly allowed, raising issues concerning the will’s execution, ambiguity in its devise, notice to the grandchildren, and whether the will was “conditional” and therefore invalid. The question presented in this will contest was whether the trial court correctly determined on summary judgment that the testator intended her last will and testament which she executed on the eve of surgery to be absolute rather than contingent on her surviving the surgery. The Supreme Court concluded that summary judgment was premature in this case because material factual issues remained in dispute concerning the testator’s intent, and therefore reversed. View "In re Appeal of the Estate of Elaine A. Holbrook" on Justia Law

by
Decedent Lyman Dezotell was killed in an automobile accident in November 2001. At the time of his death, decedent had been married for about eight months to Maria Dezotell. Decedent had met Maria online, traveled to Romania where she lived, spent about a month there, and ultimately married her in March 2001. Maria was pregnant with the couple’s first child when decedent was killed. The child, Roger Dezotell, was born in June 2002. Decedent had six daughters at the time of his death. Four were from an earlier marriage to Linda Bedard that ended in divorce: Renee, who was twenty years old; Beverly, who was nineteen, Sammie-Jo, then sixteen, and Nicole, who was fifteen. One daughter, Jennifer, then almost twenty-three, had been adopted. The sixth daughter, Melissan, then eight years old, was from a three-year relationship with Melissan’s mother that ended in 1994, when Melissan was one. Melissan later lived with her mother. Decedent enjoyed regular visits with Melissan on weekends, but provided little financial support. Based on decedent’s income from a fulltime job at IBM acquired about two years before his death, the trial court determined that decedent’s child support obligation for Melissan would have been $590 per month. The questions this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether, in distributing the proceeds of a wrongful-death settlement to the decedent’s spouse and children, the trial court was bound by the provisions of an earlier settlement distribution, and, if not, whether the court erred in curtailing an evidentiary hearing to divide the settlement in proportion to the pecuniary injuries suffered. The Supreme Court held that that the trial court correctly concluded that it was not bound by the prior order, but erred in limiting the evidentiary hearing. Accordingly, the judgment was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Estate of Dezotell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates