Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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The Alaska Supreme Court disagreed with the probate master and superior court’s underlying conclusion that a paternity determination could not be made in estate proceedings, or that a laches defense could apply in this context. A decedent left a will stating he had no children. But during probate proceedings a man in his early 30s claimed to be the decedent’s son, requested genetic testing on the decedent’s cremated remains, and filed numerous motions in an attempt to share in the decedent’s estate. The man’s mother also filed numerous motions in the proceedings, claiming to be a creditor of the decedent’s estate and seeking recovery of child support from the man’s birth to his 18th birthday. After previously signing orders denying the motions based on the probate master’s reasoning that paternity determinations may not be made in estate proceedings, the superior court ultimately ruled that: (1) laches barred the man’s and his mother’s efforts to establish paternity; and (2) because paternity had not been established, neither the man nor his mother had standing to pursue a claim in the estate proceedings. Despite disagreeing with these findings, the Supreme Court nonetheless affirmed the superior court’s decision with respect to the man’s mother on the alternative ground that her putative creditor claim: the only basis by which she could be an interested person in the estate proceedings unquestionably was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. But if the man proved to be the decedent’s son he had, at a minimum, certain statutory rights that: (1) may be established through declaratory judgment in the probate proceedings; and (2) might not be barred by a statute of limitations. Because the statute of limitations defense to the man’s claim was briefed only in limited fashion in the superior court and was not ruled on by that court, and because the issue has not been adequately briefed to the Supreme Court, the Court asked for supplemental briefing be filed to assist it in resolving whether a statute of limitations may bar the man’s recovery from the estate. View "Estate of Seward" on Justia Law

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Two co-conservators filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit involving their ward in order to seek relief from a judgment based on a settlement agreement. The superior court denied the motion, and the co-conservators appealed. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the co-conservators were entitled to intervene as a matter of right under Alaska Civil Rule 24 and that the denial of their motion to intervene was not harmless error. Accordingly, the Court reversed the superior court's order denying the motion to intervene and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hopper v. Estate of Goard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The sole question on appeal in this matter was whether the decedent's handwritten name at the beginning of the document was a "signature" as contemplated by AS 13.12.502(b). This was an issue of first impression, and the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the superior court’s conclusion that a testator’s handwritten name in the exordium clause of a purported holographic will was sufficient to satisfy the signature requirement in AS 13.12.502(b) unless the instrument was otherwise incomplete. View "In Re Estate of Baker" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The State Office of Public Advocacy (OPA) filed a petition for an ex parte protective order on behalf of an elderly woman against her adult daughter and caregiver, after receiving allegations of financial abuse made by the elderly woman’s other family members. The superior court found those allegations to be unfounded and denied the protective order. The elderly woman’s estate and the caregiver daughter sought attorney’s fees against the State in connection with both the protective order and conservatorship proceedings. The superior court awarded full reasonable fees arising from the denial of the protective order, finding that OPA’s protective order petition was brought without “just cause,” under the fee-shifting provision of AS 13.26.131(d). The superior court declined to award attorney’s fees arising from the proceeding to establish a conservatorship because the State had not “initiated” the conservatorship proceeding as required for fees under AS 13.26.131(d). The State appealed the first award, and the caregiver daughter and the estate of the woman cross-appealed the denial of the second award. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that AS 13.26.131 did not apply to elder fraud protective order proceedings; nor did Alaska Civil Rule 82. Instead, AS 44.21.415 contained a cost-recovery mechanism that allowed private parties to recover attorney’s fees against the State in such proceedings. So the Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s fee award in the elder fraud protective order proceeding. And because the State did not initiate the conservatorship proceeding here, no attorney’s fees are available against the State in that proceeding. View "Alaska Office of Public Advocacy v. Estate of Jean R." on Justia Law

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T.V., a minor, was struck by a car in 2012. T.V.’s father, Jack Vinson, hired counsel and petitioned the superior court on T.V.’s behalf for approval of insurance settlements related to that accident. Jack advised the court that the funds from the settlements would be placed in a special needs trust administered by the Foundation of the Arc of Anchorage for T.V.’s care. The superior court approved the settlements on the recommendation of a magistrate judge. Slightly more than one year after the approval of the petition, Jack filed a motion requesting that the settlement funds be removed from the trust and returned to him. The magistrate judge overseeing the matter recommended that the superior court deny the motion because the trust was not a party to the minor settlement proceeding, but the court did not rule on the magistrate judge’s recommendation. A second magistrate judge conducted a hearing and made another recommendation to deny Jack’s motion. The superior court approved the denial, and Jack appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found that Jack’s precise claims were unclear: his underlying motion to the superior court sought to have the Arc provide the settlement money to him with interest. But Jack’s notice of appeal stated that he was appealing the order approving the petition for minor settlement. Thus, the question Jack presented was whether the superior court properly denied his motion. After review, and construing Jack's pro se claims liberally, the Court concluded that the superior court did not err in denying Jack’s motion to remove the settlement funds from the trust and return them to him. Because the gravamen of Jack’s motion was a claim against the Arc of Anchorage and because the Arc of Anchorage was not a party to the minor’s probate case, the superior court did not have jurisdiction over the Arc and correctly denied Jack’s motion. View "In Re T.V." on Justia Law

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Appellant Helen Wilson was an elderly woman residing at the Palmer Pioneer home with her husband. Helen previously lived in her own house but was unable to manage her medications and nutrition independently. Her son and grandson lived with her but were unable or unwilling to help. After Adult Protective Services received several reports of harm, a temporary emergency guardian was appointed for Helen; the guardian placed her in an assisted living facility and then in the Pioneer Home. Despite her limited financial means, Helen continued to support her son and grandson, who remained in her house. The master observed that Helen needed help managing personal care because she “was previously unable to maintain the level of necessary care prior to the petition being filed” and her family had previously “interfered with [personal care assistants].” And the master found that Helen needed assistance applying for benefits and managing her assets due to her “limited math abilities,” “age-related cognitive decline,” “tendency to give away more money than she can afford,” and “extremely tight budget,” which made “[h]er ability to receive benefits . . . a major factor in maintaining her current level of independence.” Accordingly the master gave the guardian authority to provide for Helen’s personal care, apply for insurance and government benefits, and“control [Helen’s] estate and income . . . to pay for the cost of services that the guardian is authorized to obtain on behalf of [Helen].” He recognized that Helen should be free to give away her discretionary income, but that she needed “a partial guardian [to] ensure that she only gives money away after her own necessities, including adequate nutrition, medication, and housing costs, have been met.” Before the superior court ruled on the master’s recommendations, the public guardian filed a motion for sale of Helen’s residence to help defray costs required to meet her daily needs. Helen appeals the appointment of a partial public guardian and full conservator, particularly for their role in making decisions on her behalf, and for selling her house. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wilson v. Alaska Dept. of Law" on Justia Law

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Offenesia Yako Bavilla died in 2010. In 1987, Offenesia executed a will that left most of her assets to her children Etta and Steven. In the mid-2000s Offenesia was elderly and "slipping mentally." In November 2005 a doctor wrote that Offenesia's "mental status has declined significantly," that she "has become nearly mute," and that she "appears to hallucinate." The doctor concluded that "[d]ue to her dementia, her condition is quite likely to continue to deteriorate." In February 2006, Offenesia executed a new will, prepared by Alaska Legal Services Corporation. This new will eliminated Etta from any inheritance but still included her brother, Steven. The 2006 will included a statement explicitly "revoking all prior wills and codicils." This appeal stemmed from Etta's attempt to informally probate the 1987 will. Because Offenesia signed a new will in 2006, the superior court did not accept Etta's informal probate of the 1987 will. Etta, acting pro se, attempted to contest the validity of the 2006 will by filing a motion to amend her probate of the 1987 will to include a challenge to the 2006 will. Her motion to amend was denied, as was her motion for recusal of the magistrate judge who recommended denial of that amendment. On appeal, Etta challenged the superior court's denial of her motion to amend her pleadings and the magistrate judge's decision not to recuse himself. After review, the Supreme Court remanded for the superior court to allow Etta to amend her pleadings but affirmed the magistrate judge's decision not to recuse himself. View "In Re Estate of Bavilla" on Justia Law

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Linda Moffitt filed suit as her mother's guardian and conservator and the successor trustee of her parents' living trusts, seeking to rescind or reform a deed they executed in 1995 and a contract they signed in 1998. The superior court dismissed Linda's claims, concluding that the statutes of limitations had run before Linda filed her lawsuit in 2005. The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court centered on whether the superior court properly applied the statutes of limitations. The Supreme Court concluded that Linda's mostly equitable claims were subject to the defense of laches, and the statutes of limitations did not apply to these claims. View "Moffitt v. Moffitt" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Workers' Compensation Board denied a death benefit claim filed by the decedent's same-sex partner because the death benefit statute grants benefits only to a worker’s "widow or widower" as defined by statute. The Board construed these terms by applying the Marriage Amendment to the Alaska Constitution, which defined marriage as "only between one man and one woman," thus excluding a decedent's same-sex partner. Because this exclusion lacked a fair and substantial relationship to the purpose of the statute, the Supreme Court concluded that this restriction on the statutory definition of "widow" violated the surviving partner's right to equal protection under the law. View "Harris v. Millennium Hotel" on Justia Law

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Charles Kemp attempted suicide while in administrative segregation at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. He survived but suffered a serious brain injury. His mother, Marjorie Achman, sued the Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC), alleging both a negligent failure to protect Kemp from self-harm and medical malpractice. The superior court granted summary judgment to DOC and awarded attorney’s fees to DOC as the prevailing party. Achman appealed that decision. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Achman v. Alaska" on Justia Law