Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Appellant’s declaratory judgment claim challenging a codicil to Patricia Ann Britain’s will, holding that Appellant’s challenges to the codicil could not be brought through a declaratory judgment action. Appellant, the personal representative of Patricia’s estate, brought this action alleging that Patricia was not competent to execute the codicil at issue because she did not have the capacity to execute the codicil or acted under undue influence. The district court dismissed the declaratory judgment action, concluding that the personal representative of an estate was not entitled to maintain a declaratory judgment action to challenge a will codicil on the grounds that the testator lacked capacity and/or was unduly influenced. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly dismissed the action because a will contest is the exclusive method of testing the validity of a will when there are questions about the testator’s competence or questions about undue influence. View "Britain v. Britain" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Estate of Charles Fleig in this case challenging the rights in Charles’s checking account at Sunlight Federal Credit Union. Here, Charles and Wendy Fleig executed a signature car to add Wendy to Charles’s checking account at the Credit Union. The signature card failed to indicate whether the account would be subject to rights of survivorship. The membership and account agreement, however, provided that joint accounts had rights of survivorship unless otherwise indicated on the signature card. After Charles died, his Estate sued Wendy and the Credit Union, asserting several causes of action, including a claim for declaratory judgment regarding ownership of the checking account. The district court concluded that the signature card did not create rights of survivorship, that the account was held by Wendy and Charles as tenants in common, and that fifty percent of the account proceeds passed to the Estate and fifty percent passed to Wendy. The Supreme Court reversed, holding Wendy had a right of survivorship in the checking account because the signature card and the membership and account agreement formed the contract between the Fleigs and the Credit Union and unambiguously expressed the intent that joint accounts have rights of survivorship. View "Fleig v. Estate of Charles F. Fleig" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s lawsuit seeking to prevent the sale of land held in Allen F. Willey’s revocable trust. The district court determined that Plaintiffs - the grandchildren of Mr. Willey - were no longer beneficiaries of the trust as a result of their father’s 2014 lawsuit against Mr. Willey and his wife. The Supreme Court held (1) the 2014 suit constituted a “challenge” to the trust even though the suit was filed during Mr. Willey’s lifetime; and (2) the in terrorem clause in Mr. Willey’s trust did not violate public policy. View "EGW v. First Federal Savings Bank of Sheridan, Wyoming" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding that a California court probate order distributing the estate of Lon V. Smith and a Wyoming court probate order to distribute the decedent’s Wyoming property, including a Carbon County overriding royalty interest (ORRI), governed, regardless of Mr. Smith’s intent as expressed in his will. In his will, Smith intended for the ORRI to be distributed to his wife, Marguerite B. Smith, for her life, and then to be distributed to the Lon V. Smith Foundation. The probate court orders distributed the ORRI to Mrs. Smith under the will’s residuary clause. The district court ruled that the Marguerite Brown Smith Trust (the beneficiary under Mrs. Smith’s will) owned the ORRI, not the Foundation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) correctly determined that the California probate order and the Wyoming ancillary probate ordered governed and that the Trust was the owner of the ORRI; (2) properly granted summary judgment to Devon Energy Corporation and Devon Energy Production Co. (collectively, Devon) on the Foundation’s claim that Devon violated the Wyoming Royalty Payment Act (WRPA); and (3) correctly found that neither party was entitled to attorney fees under the WRPA. View "Lon V. Smith Foundation v. Devon Energy Corp." on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Appellants’ motion to recover attorney fees and costs incurred in this litigation. Three sisters filed claims, counterclaims, and cross-claims in this dispute over the numerous entities their parents formed to manage their significant holdings for the benefit of their daughters. The district court sorted out the claims after a bench trial. Appellants then filed a motion to recover costs and attorney fees. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, when this case is viewed as a whole, the district court could reasonably conclude that Appellants were not prevailing parties. View "Acorn v. Moncecchi" on Justia Law

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In this probate action, the district court erred by refusing to grant Appellants’ Wyo. R. Civ. P. 40.1 motion for peremptory disqualification of the assigned judge. Appellants, the surviving children of Robert Meeker, contested Meeker’s will, which left the bulk of his estate to Appellee. Appellants filed a petition to set aside the probate of the will and also filed a motion for change of judge under the peremptory disqualification provision in rule 40.1. The judge assigned to the probate had presided over an earlier, related guardianship/conservatorship action. The district court denied the motion for peremptory disqualification as untimely and granted summary judgment to Appellee on the will contest. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Appellants timely filed their motion to peremptorily disqualify the assigned judge when they filed it on the same day they filed their will contest, and therefore, the district court erred when it denied Appellants’ motion for peremptory disqualification; and (2) accordingly, the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Appellee was void. View "Gaston v. Wagner" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment action against the Teton County Assessor seeking a declaration that the trusts for which it acted as trustee were charitable trusts within the meaning of Wyo. Stat. Ann. 4-10-406(a) and were exempt from taxation under Wyo. Stat. Ann. 39-11-105(xix). The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the primary jurisdiction doctrine made dismissal of the action appropriate. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because Plaintiff failed to exhaust its administrative remedies before filing a complaint in the district court, the district court properly dismissed the complaint; and (2) to the extent Plaintiff may have properly invoked the district court’s jurisdiction the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the primary jurisdiction doctrine warranted dismissal of the action in favor of review through the administrative process. View "Thomas Gilcrease Foundation v. Cavallaro" on Justia Law

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Bud Federer, who died in 2003, enjoyed a successful career as a businessman in Wyoming. In 2011, Margie, Bud's wife, moved to an assisted living facility. During Bud’s life and after he died, the family created numerous entities to hold and manage their business interests and to pass Bud and Margie’s estate to their three daughters. The sisters, however, disagreed about money, and those disagreements led to accusations of misconduct and breaches of the duties that attached to their roles as trustees and LLC managers. The sisters engaged in litigation involving claims, counterclaims, and cross-claims. The district court sorted out these claims after a bench trial. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part, holding (1) the district court’s conclusion that Dino Moncecchi did not breach his fiduciary duties to an LLC was not clearly erroneous; (2) the removal of Rebecca Shwen as trustee of the Margie Jean Federer Revocable Trust was not based on findings that were clearly erroneous; (3) the district court incorrectly applied the burden of proof for establishing damages resulting from Rebecca’s breach of fiduciary duty; and (4) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it awarded attorney fees against Rebecca for filing a frivolous claim. View "Acorn v. Moncecchi" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Appellant filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and a permanent injunction against his father, his father’s wife, and a bank serving as trustee of his father’s trust (collectively, Appellees), seeking to prevent Appellees from selling the Willey Ranch, which was held in the trust. Specifically, Appellant alleged that selling the ranch amounted to a breach of contract and that his father’s wife exerted undue influence over his father to convince him to sell the ranch and to amend the trust provisions to remove Appellant from the trust. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees with respect to the breach of contract claim. The undue influence claims proceeded to trial. After a trial, the jury rejected Appellant’s undue influence claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in instructing the jury regarding the elements of undue influence; (2) the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on the breach of contract claim; and (3) Appellant’s remaining issues on appeal were either waived or not supported by cogent legal argument or pertinent authority. View "Willey v. Willey" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Walker Inman executed an inter vivos trust and a last will and testament. After Mr. Inman died, Daralee Inman, his wife, petitioned the district court for probate of Mr. Inman’s estate. Two years after the probate was opened, Wyoming Trust Company (WTC) filed a petition seeking to be appointed as the conservator of the minor children in the probate action. The district court granted the petition. WTC, as conservator for the minor children, filed a separate complaint for declaratory relief and damages, together with a petition to remove trustees, alleging six causes of action. The cases proceeded simultaneously over the next two years. The district court later ordered the cases consolidated. The court then issued its decision and order, interpreting a trust provision and holding that the Wyoming Probate Code governs the transfer of property to the trust but making no final determination of either of the two consolidated matters. Daralee Inman appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding that the Court lacked jurisdiction to decide the appeal because the order was not a final appealable order. View "In re Estate of Inman" on Justia Law