Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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In 2001, John Bays and Carole Kiphart, who were married, executed reciprocal wills. Carole also obtained two life-insurance policies with the benefits payable to John and their minor son. In 2007, after Carole was diagnosed with cancer, she executed a new will that largely disinherited John. Carole then created two trusts, removed John as a beneficiary on the life-insurance policies, and named the trusts as the beneficiaries. After Carole died, John renounced the will, elected to take his spousal share, and sought to recover the portion of his spousal share that may have been delivered to various legatees under the will and to the beneficiaries of the life insurance policies. John’s theory was that there was fraud on his statutory spousal interest because the beneficiaries of the insurance policies had been changed and the trusts established without his knowledge or consent. The circuit court found in John’s favor with respect to the claimed fraud on his statutory spousal interest. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that where a dying spouse exercises her right to change the beneficiary on her life-insurance policy and instead names a trust for the benefit of the minor child of the marriage, the surviving spouse cannot claim fraud on his statutory spousal interest. View "Bays v. Kiphart" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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While he was married to Barbara Van Buskirk, Richard Van Buskirk established an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) with the Dreyfus Family of Funds. Richard identified Barbara as the beneficiary on the account. When Richard and Barbara divorced in 1997, a property settlement agreement entered into by the parties was incorporated into the final divorce decree. Richard died in 2011. Ruth Ann Sadler, Richard’s widow and the administratrix of his estate, filed a motion to intervene in the Van Buskirks’ final divorce action so that she could request a declaration of rights that Barbara had no rights to Richard’s Dreyfus IRA account. The trial court granted Ruth Ann’s motion to intervene but denied her motion to declare that Barbara had no rights to Richard’s IRA, concluding that the agreement was silent with respect to the beneficiary interest in Richard’s IRA and, therefore, the account designation naming Barbara as the beneficiary governed the dispute. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the agreement clearly and unambiguously assigned the full and exclusive ownership interest of the Dreyfus IRA to Richard, and the agreement correspondingly prohibited Barbara from asserting any interest in the IRA owned by Richard. View "Sadler v. Buskirk" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Ky. Rev. Stat. 386.180 mandated that testamentary trustees make a choice of compensation between either an annual fee or a fee at the termination of the trust. Plaintiffs were the beneficiaries of testamentary trusts managed by Trustees. The Caperton Trust, managed by PNC Bank, operated under a termination-fee compensation option, and the Jarvis Trusts, managed by National City, operated under an annual-fee option. After the General Assembly repealed section 386.180 in 2008, the Trustees brought a declaratory judgment action seeking a judicial determination of whether the repeal of the statute affected their compensation, where the two trusts at issue were in existence for many years before the statute was repealed. The trial court granted the Trustees' motion for summary judgment, concluding that the repeal of section 386.180 eliminated all restrictions on the calculation of trustee fees. Plaintiffs appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the repeal of section 386.180 was complete and unlimited, and therefore, trustees of testamentary trusts could collect reasonable fees on trusts that predated the repeal of the statute. View "Jarvis v. Nat'l City" on Justia Law

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Appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Christina Wittich. Wittich's parents brought a wrongful death action against Appellant on behalf of their daughter's estate (Estate) and obtained a multi-million dollar jury verdict. Appellant appealed, naming only "the Estate of Christina Wittich" as a party to the appeal. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal for failure to name the co-administrators of the Estate. The Supreme Court reversed the dismissal, holding that Appellant's error in the notice of appeal as not fatal to the appeal, as naming "The Estate of Christina Wittich" provided sufficient notice to the co-administrators of the Wittich Estate, conferred jurisdiction over the co-administrators, and identified the proper party to the appeal. View "Flick v. Estate of Wittich" on Justia Law

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Kathy and Curtis Rice were married approximately four months before separating and filing for divorce. While they were separated but still married, Curtis died in a work-related accident. Jackie Griffin, Curtis's mother and the administratrix of his estate, claimed Kathy was barred by Ky. Rev. Stat. 392.090(2) from receiving an interest in Curtis's estate. The statute provides that a spouse who voluntarily leaves the other and "lives in adultery" forfeits his or her right to and interest in the other's estate and property. Based on Griffin's proof at trial that Kathy had sexual intercourse with another man the night prior to Curtis's death, the trial court held that Kathy forfeited her interest in Curtis's estate pursuant to section 392.090(2). The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the statutory language "lives in adultery" requires more than a single instance of adultery. View "Griffin v. Rice" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was whether a district court acted outside the scope of its jurisdiction when it issued an order requiring a guardian to provide all financial records related to a court-ordered accounting and to make restitution to a guardianship account. The circuit court denied a petition for writ of prohibition prohibiting the district judge from enforcing his orders. The court of appeals reversed the circuit court and remanded the case back for entry of a writ of prohibition, opining that the district court lacked jurisdiction because the charge was one of mismanagement of funds and beyond the scope of the court's powers. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the appellate court's order requiring the circuit court to enter a writ of prohibition was improper, as the district court is granted exclusive jurisdiction to manage and settle guardianship accounts and was acting soundly within its jurisdiction in this case. View "Dist. Court (Karem) v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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Appellants, a group of heirs who were entitled to receive the net proceeds of a judicial sale of four tracts of land, sued Appellees, a former master commissioner of the circuit court, a circuit court judge, and the administrative office of the courts, pursuant to the Kentucky Board of Claims Act, after the former master commissioner failed to disburse the proceeds of the sale. The Board of Claims (Board) entered a final order dismissing Appellants' claims for lack of jurisdiction. The circuit court and court of appeals affirmed. At issue on appeal was whether a claim involving judicial officers or court employes may proceed at the Board. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the judge's continued use of the master commissioner, without reappointment, to perform significant functions in actions in the circuit court without a bond and without surety approved by the judge as statutorily mandated, was grounds for a claim in the Board of Claims based upon alleged negligence in the performance of a ministerial duty by an officer of the state. Remanded to the Board for a determination of whether Appellants suffered damages as a proximate cause of the alleged negligence. View "Greene v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Two brothers had a dispute over an alleged oral agreement relating to the care of their mother by which one brother agreed to give up part of his inheritance if the other brother would care for their mother. The trial court found that a valid agreement between the brothers had been reached. The court of appeals reversed on an issue that had not been raised at the trial court but which the court reached as part of its overall examination of the validity of the agreement. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the court of appeals cannot reverse the judgment of the trial court on an issue that was not specifically raised at the trial court, but (2) the court of appeals nevertheless reached the correct result because the parties' agreement was unenforceable under the statute of frauds, and thus, no action on it could be maintained. View "Fischer v. Fischer" on Justia Law