Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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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

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Olive Kathryn Purcella (Kathryn) filed a petition in the Anchorage superior court to reform or terminate the Olive Kathryn Purcella Trust. The superior court held, after trial, that Kathryn had not shown by clear and convincing evidence that she did not intend to execute an irrevocable trust or that the trust was the product of undue influence, and denied her petition. Kathryn appealed, arguing that the factual findings on which the superior court predicated its ruling were in error. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "Purcella v. Olive Kathryn Purcella Trust" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The Dennis P. Hutchinson, Jr. Trust held two residential properties; Appellee Wells Fargo Bank administered the trust. The beneficiary's mother and guardian, Appellant Jean Schultz, learned that insurance premiums on the properties in trust had increased significantly. She discovered that the insurance had not been purchased through local insurance markets, but purchased through the bank. The trust attorney unsuccessfully tried to contact the bank to discuss the increase in premiums, and resorted to suing the bank to force it to disclose documents and other information regarding the trust's administration. The superior court granted the trust approximately half of what it asked for, and declared neither side as the prevailing party, so no one was awarded attorney's fees. The trust appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing the superior court misinterpreted the statutory authority belying its decision regarding the fees, and therefore abused its discretion. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed. View "Schultz v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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The issue presented to the Supreme Court in this case involved a dispute over the disposition of a deceased Alaska attorney's interest in attorney's fees from his participation, through a joint venture, in the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation. The attorney's sister, individually and on behalf of their mother's trust, asserted claims to the attorney's fees, and the attorney's estate opposed those claims. The parties settled the dispute by agreeing that the right to attorney's fees was an estate asset, and the settlement was approved by the Alaska superior court in the deceased attorney's probate proceedings. The attorney's fees were ultimately paid to the joint venture. Both the estate and the sister then sought the deceased attorney's interest in the joint venture's attorney's fees. The estate requested that the superior court enjoin the sister's claims as violations of the settlement agreement. Around this time, the joint venture deposited what it calculated as the deceased attorney's share of the joint venture's attorney's fees in a federal interpleader action in California. The superior court ruled that under the settlement agreement, as between the estate, the sister, and the mother's trust, the estate had the right to the deceased attorney's share of the attorney's fees held by the joint venture. The superior court therefore enjoined the sister from pursuing claims to the deceased attorney's share of the joint venture's attorney's fees. The superior court later modified the injunction to allow the sister's participation in the federal interpleader action. The sister appeals, arguing that the superior court exceeded its jurisdiction, issued its judgment without proper procedures, improperly interpreted the settlement agreement, prohibited her from pursuing contract claims against third parties, and entered a vague and ambiguous judgment. She also argues that the superior court's ruling was improperly expanded to allow her participation in the federal interpleader action. Because the Supreme Court concluded that the superior court acted within its jurisdiction, followed adequate procedures, did not prevent the sister from pursuing her individual contract claims against the joint venture, was not vague and ambiguous in its ruling, and did not expand the ruling's substance when modifying it, the Court affirmed the superior court's orders and judgment. View "Dimeff v. Estate of Robert Merle Cowan" on Justia Law

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Jason Coday shot and killed Simone Kim with a rifle obtained from Ray Coxe’s gun store. Kim’s Estate brought a wrongful death action against Coxe, alleging that Coxe negligently or illegally provided Coday the rifle. Coxe defended in part by asserting immunity under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). The Estate argued against applying the PLCAA and alternatively that it was unconstitutional. The superior court ruled that the PLCAA was constitutional and, interpreting and applying the PLCAA’s immunity provisions to the facts of this case, granted summary judgment dismissing the Estate’s claims against Coxe. The Estate appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s ruling that the PLCAA was constitutional and its interpretation of the PLCAA, but because it was unclear whether certain evidence before the superior court actually was or should have been considered when granting summary judgment dismissing the Estate’s claims, the Court vacated the summary judgment ruling and remanded the case for further consideration. View "Estate of Simone Young Kim v. Coxe" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned a dispute between three daughters regarding the administration of their deceased mother’s estate. The dispute centered around three documents: (1) a will executed in 1987; (2) a revised will the decedent allegedly executed in 2007 or 2008, which contained a clause revoking all prior wills; and (3) an exhibit that was allegedly an accurate (but unsigned) draft of the revised will. After an evidentiary hearing, the superior court found that: (1) the decedent executed a valid will in 1987; (2) the decedent subsequently executed a revised will, but that will was lost; and (3) the revised will had revoked the 1987 will. Because an executed version of the revised will was never located, the superior court concluded it had been destroyed by the decedent, leaving her estate to be administered under Alaska’s statutory scheme for intestate succession. On appeal, one daughter challenged the superior court’s conclusion that the 1987 will was properly revoked. The Supreme Court remanded the case for the superior court to determine whether its finding that the revised will was properly executed is supported by clear and convincing evidence. The Court also remanded for the superior court to determine whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to overcome the presumption that the decedent destroyed her will. View "Dan v. Dan" on Justia Law