Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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Lester and William Lee created LIA in 1974 as a public company. William’s sons (Lester's nephews) later joined the business. LIA subsequently bought out the public shareholders, leaving Lester owning 516 shares; William owned 484. William created the Trust to hold his shares. The nephews served as trustees. Lester encountered difficulties with another company he owned, Maxim. He proposed that Maxim merge with LIA; William rejected this idea. Lester told the nephews, “I will screw you at every opportunity,” and made other threats, then, as majority shareholder, approved a merger of LIA and another company. The Trust asserted its rights under Indiana’s Dissenters’ Rights Statute. Lester gutted LIA to prevent the Trust from collecting the value of its LIA shares. He bought property from LIA on terms favorable to him and realized substantial profits. LIA subsidiaries were transferred for little or no consideration to Lester’s immediate family. Lester also perpetrated a collusive lawsuit, resulting in an agreed judgment that all LIA assets should be transferred to him and his companies. Lester did not disclose these actions to the nephews. In 2008, the Jennings Circuit Court conducted an appraisal in the dissenters’ rights action. Between the trial and the judgment, Lester dissolved LIA. The court entered a $7,522,879.73 judgment for the Trust. In 2012, Lester petitioned for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The Trust initiated a successful adversary proceeding to pierce LIA’s corporate veil and hold Lester personally liable for the judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting the facts were undisputed. View "William R. Lee Irrevocable Trust v. Lee" on Justia Law

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In 2002 a Greyhound bus struck and killed Claudia. Her daughter, Cristina, age seven, witnessed the accident. In 2016 Cristina settled claims against Greyhound and other potentially responsible persons for $5 million. Klein, Cristina’s stepfather, believes that Cristina allocated too much of the settlement to herself as damages for emotional distress and not enough to him. His suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleged that Cristina conspired with state judges, law firms, Greyhound, and others, to exclude him from financial benefits. Klein sued as the purported administrator of Claudia’s estate although he had not been appointed as administrator. Klein and Cristina became co-administrators, but Klein was soon removed by a state judge. Defendants asked the federal judge to dismiss the suit as barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, under which only the U.S. Supreme Court may review the civil state court judgments. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal on the merits. Collateral litigation in federal court is blocked by principles of preclusion and by Rooker's holding that errors committed in state litigation cannot be treated as federal constitutional torts. The court noted that the “long and tangled history" of the case was caused by Klein’s (or his lawyer’s) "inability or unwillingness to litigate as statutes and rules require.” They had neither briefed the proper issue on appeal nor attached the judgment, as required. “They are not entitled to divert the time of federal judges” and will be penalized for any further attempts. View "Xydakis v. O'Brien" on Justia Law

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Richard and Kathryn are the beneficiaries of their parents’ multi‐million dollar trust, which is administered by Richard, Kathryn, and a corporate trustee. When their father died, the two fell into “irreconcilable” disputes. Kathryn hired Oxford to advise her. The trust paid Oxford’s fees. Oxford advised Kathryn to create one trust for Kathryn and her children, and another for Richard and his. Richard agreed. They moved the trust's situs from Indiana to South Dakota. Ultimately, they could not agree on the terms. When Kathryn refused to sign Richard’s proposed agreement, he unsuccessfully petitioned a South Dakota state court to order the trust's division. Richard alleges that he suffered financial losses and that his sister refused to sign the agreement because she received negligent advice from Oxford. Richard sued Oxford on behalf of the trust, asserting his capacity as a beneficiary and a co‐trustee. The complaint identified Kathryn as an “involuntary plaintiff.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, finding that Richard lacks capacity to bring suit on behalf of the trust under either Illinois or South Dakota law, which prohibits a trust beneficiary from suing a third party on behalf of a trust (absent special circumstances that were not alleged). State law and the trust agreement require a majority of trustees to consent to such a suit; that consent was missing. View "Doermer v. Oxford Financial Group, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Richard and Kathryn are the beneficiaries of their parents’ multi‐million dollar trust, which is administered by Richard, Kathryn, and a corporate trustee. When their father died, the two fell into “irreconcilable” disputes. Kathryn hired Oxford to advise her. The trust paid Oxford’s fees. Oxford advised Kathryn to create one trust for Kathryn and her children, and another for Richard and his. Richard agreed. They moved the trust's situs from Indiana to South Dakota. Ultimately, they could not agree on the terms. When Kathryn refused to sign Richard’s proposed agreement, he unsuccessfully petitioned a South Dakota state court to order the trust's division. Richard alleges that he suffered financial losses and that his sister refused to sign the agreement because she received negligent advice from Oxford. Richard sued Oxford on behalf of the trust, asserting his capacity as a beneficiary and a co‐trustee. The complaint identified Kathryn as an “involuntary plaintiff.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, finding that Richard lacks capacity to bring suit on behalf of the trust under either Illinois or South Dakota law, which prohibits a trust beneficiary from suing a third party on behalf of a trust (absent special circumstances that were not alleged). State law and the trust agreement require a majority of trustees to consent to such a suit; that consent was missing. View "Doermer v. Oxford Financial Group, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Givens, a Missouri resident, suffered from renal failure, was on dialysis for about 10 years and had experienced multiple strokes. In 2009, she suffered an additional injury from gadolinium dye, a substance used in MRIs, joined a class action related to the dye, and received about $255,000 in settlement proceeds. Givens signed an agreement allowing the National Foundation for Special Needs Integrity to manage a trust for her benefit while she lived. Givens named herself as the only beneficiary. Givens died a month after funding the trust, leaving more than $234,000. Givens failed to specify a remainder beneficiary. The Foundation claimed that the agreement entitled it to retain any remaining trust assets. Givens’s Estate claimed that it is entitled to the money for the benefit of Givens’s children, arguing that the agreement is ambiguous and should be construed against the Foundation, or that the court should use its equitable power. The district court rejected the Estate’s arguments. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding the agreement ambiguous on the key question. The overwhelming weight of evidence shows that Givens intended that any remaining assets pass to her children rather than to the Foundation. The court did not address equitable theories or a laches defense. View "National Foundation For Special Needs Integrity, Inc. v. Reese" on Justia Law

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Catherine’s parents, Mary and Henry, settled an inter vivos trust with real estate as the trust property. The trust document included a standard spendthrift provision meant to shield the trust’s future benefits from the reach of beneficiaries and their creditors and directed the trustee to evenly divide all remaining principal among their three children at the time of the surviving spouse’s death. Any share belonging to a child who did not survive the surviving spouse by 60 days would go to the child’s successors. The trustee was given the discretion to delay the distribution for six months. Henry survived Mary and died in July 2012. Catherine and her husband filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy seven months later in February 2013. They claimed $30,000 for “Wife’s Father’s Estate” as property exempt from liquidation under 11 U.S.C. 522. The bankruptcy trustee objected, arguing that her father’s death gave Catherine an immediate and unconditional right to receive her interest in the trust property, which removed the interest from the purview of the trust’s spendthrift provision. The bankruptcy court, district court, and Seventh Circuit agreed. Catherine’s trust interest fully vested before the bankruptcy filing, so the property belongs to the bankruptcy estate. View "Carroll v. Takada" on Justia Law

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Billhartz left more than $20 million to his four children when he died. His estate tax return claimed a deduction for more than $14 million because the amounts paid to the children through a trust were paid pursuant to Billhartz’s contractual obligation under a marital settlement agreement with his first wife. The IRS disallowed the deduction in full and issued a notice of deficiency. The Estate filed suit. Before trial the Estate and the IRS settled; the IRS conceded 52.5% of the claimed deduction. Soon after the settlement, Billhartz’s children sued the Estate in state court, claiming that they were entitled to a larger portion of their father’s fortune and that their prior acceptance of a lesser amount had been obtained fraudulently. The Estate asked the Tax Court to vacate the settlement on the basis that, were the children to prevail, the settlement would bar the Estate from claiming an estate tax refund for any additional amount paid to the children. The Tax Court rejected the Estate’s arguments, and entered a decision reflecting the terms of the settlement agreement. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Tax Court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to set aside the settlement. View "Billhartz v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Kuznar left Poland and moved to the United States, leaving his wife, Emilia, and son Thomas. In the U.S., he married Anna without divorcing Emilia. Anna collected spousal pension benefits after his 1995 death. In 1997, Thomas, now living in the U.S., opened probate in Illinois state court, on his mother’s behalf. The probate court ordered Anna to pay Emilia the amount she had collected from Mitchell’s pension fund. Emilia died before judgment entered; the Appellate Court remanded. In 2011 Thomas opened administration of Emilia’s estate and renewed his motion for summary judgment in the 1997 case, on behalf of Emilia’s estate. Anna filed notice of removal. Thomas filed notice of voluntary dismissal under FRCP 41(a)(1)(A)(i). Anna then argued that she had removed the 1997 case, not the 2011 case, and that no dismissal could be valid unless it dismissed the 1997 case entirely. The district judge reasoned that Anna’s submissions indicated that she was attempting to remove a “new action” filed in the 2011 probate case. The Seventh Circuit held that the dismissal was effective. Thomas was entitled to accept Anna’s “doubtful” characterization of his motion and voluntarily dismiss the supposed “new action” rather than dispute Anna’s shifting characterization of his filings. View "Kuznar v. Kuznar" on Justia Law

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Bell sued attorney Ruben and his firm, alleging that they negligently and fraudulently mismanaged her trust, causing a loss of $34 million. Before arbitration, Ruben filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Bell filed an adversary complaint opposing discharge of Ruben’s fraud-based debt to her, 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(2)(A), (4). The bankruptcy judge granted Ruben a discharge of his other debts, but not of that fraud debt. Ruben’s liability insurance did not cover fraud. Bell settled her negligence claims against Ruben and all claims against the other defendants in arbitration. The arbitration panel ruled, with respect to the fraud claim, that “damages proven to be attributable to the actions of [Ruben] have been compensated,” but ordered Ruben to pay administrative fees and expenses of the American Arbitration Association (AAA) totaling $21,200.00 and that compensation and expenses of the arbitrators, advanced by Bell, totaling $150,304.54 would be borne by Ruben. AAA rules, which governed the arbitration, provide that expenses of arbitration “shall be borne equally” unless the parties agree otherwise or the arbitrator assesses expenses against specified parties. Ruben refused to pay. The bankruptcy judge entered summary judgment in favor of Ruben. The district court reversed, in favor of Bell. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Ruben v. Bell" on Justia Law

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After the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs determined Evans was no longer competent to manage his veterans’ benefits, it appointed his daughter as the federal fiduciary. The VA later terminated her appointment and appointed the Greenfield Banking Company. Evans’s wife and daughter filed suit asserting breach of fiduciary duty and conversion by the Bank and sought creation of a constructive trust. The complaint alleges that the Bank complied with the terms of its obligations to the VA as federal fiduciary but that doing so meant it breached its fiduciary duty to Evans. The complaint did not claim misuse of funds, mismanagement depriving him of the use of any funds, embezzlement, or the like. The daughter was apparently not fully reimbursed for expenditures she made on behalf of Evans while pursuing a guardianship in state court. Evans died in 2012. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the complaint is really a challenge to a federal fiduciary appointment and to veteran benefits distribution and, as such, not within the court’s jurisdiction. View "Stump v. Greenfield Banking Co," on Justia Law