Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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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

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Jones was murdered, leaving no will. He owned a life insurance policy through his employer. He did not designate a beneficiary. The policy provided that the proceeds ($307,000) would go first to a surviving spouse (Jones never married), second to surviving children, third to surviving parents, and fourth to his estate. Quincy claimed to be Jones’s son; Moore, claimed to be his daughter. The insurance company filed an interpleader action. After paying $24,000 for funeral expenses and $137,000 to Quincy, the company deposited the remainder with the court. Jones’s biological sister also claimed the proceeds, arguing that Jones was homosexual and had not fathered children. Jones’s income tax returns showed that he had claimed various children as dependents, sometimes omitting Quincy. A DNA test established that Moore was not his daughter. The district judge declined to order a test for Quincy because Jones had held Quincy out as his biological son and had signed an order in 1996 acknowledging Quincy (then six years old) as his son. The judge awarded Quincy the deposited funds.. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Rule 35 would have allowed, but did not require, the judge to order a DNA test, given the presumption of paternity under Illinois law.View "MN Life Ins. Co. v. Jones" on Justia Law

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In 2009 Betty and Wayne submitted a tax return on behalf of a Betty Phillips Trust, signed by Betty, who was listed as the trustee, claiming income of $47,997. A second return on behalf of a Wayne Phillips trust, was signed by Wayne, but Betty was listed as trustee. This return reported income of $1,057,585. Both returns claimed that all income had gone to pay fiduciary fees, so that the trusts had no taxable income. The Wayne Trust claimed a refund of $352,528. The Betty Trust claimed $15,999. The IRS issued a check for $352,528. They endorsed the check and deposited it into a joint account. The returns were fraudulent. The IRS had no record of any taxes being paid by the trusts. In December, the IRS served summonses. That month, the couple withdrew $244,137 remaining from their refund proceeds using 13 different locations. They followed the same strategy the next year, but did not receive checks. A jury convicted Betty of conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims (18 U.S.C. 286), and of knowingly making a false claim to the government (18 U.S.C. 287.1). The district court sentenced her to 41 months’ imprisonment and ordered them to pay $352,528 in restitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting claims that the court improperly admitted evidence, and that the government constructively amended the indictment and violated Betty’s right against self‐incrimination. View "United States v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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The Kivers retained C&T, an Illinois law firm, to prepare trusts to benefit their daughters, Diane and Maureen, among others. Maureen and Diane each served as trustee of various trusts. Maureen died in 2007. Her husband, Minor, represents Maureen’s estate, which filed suit against C&T, alleging that C&T failed to disclose the existence and terms of certain trusts to Maureen, to her detriment, and failed to make distributions to her. The estate filed a separate state court suit against Diane, alleging that Diane breached her duties as trustee by failing to disclose the existence of certain trusts to Maureen or make distributions to her. Diane was a client of C&T during the relevant period. The district court entered an agreed protective order governing discovery disclosure to deal with privilege issues and denied the estate’s motion to compel production. The estate violated the protective order. The district court imposed sanctions and dismissed several of the estate’s claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that “The complexity of the multiple trusts … the untimely death of Maureen, the pursuit of concurrent state and federal suits … the length of this litigation, and the disorderly nature of the estate’s presentation… evoke a middle installment of Bleak House." View "Scott v. Chuhak & Tecson, PC" on Justia Law

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Allen suffered a fatal heart attack in 2009, leaving a wife of three years, Arlene, and three adult children from a previous marriage. At the time of Allen’s death, his daughter and her children lived with Allen and Arlene. Allen had a will bequeathing $100,000, but his assets passed outside of probate, leaving his estate with insufficient funds for the bequest. Allen had designated his children as beneficiaries of assets, including a home, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other savings accounts. Allen had one life insurance policy as part of his compensation package as a pharmacist, which provided $74,000 in basic coverage and $341,000 in supplemental coverage. If the policyholder failed to designate a beneficiary by his date of death, the proceeds would pass to the policyholder’s spouse by default. The insurer never received any indication that Allen wished to designate a beneficiary. In the days following Allen’s death, however, the children found a change-of-beneficiary form, allegedly completed by their father more than a year before his death, but never submitted. The district court ruled in Arlene’s favor, finding that even if Allen had filled out a change-of-beneficiary form he had not substantially complied with policy requirements for changing beneficiaries. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Kagan v. Kagan" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Hedstrom married Kotter, a real estate agent. The marriage lasted two years, but the two were on good terms when Hedstrom died. There is no evidence that Hedstrom lacked mental capacity. In 2006 Hedstrom purchased two Chicago condominiums. Kotter acted as his real estate agent and Geldes acted as his real estate attorney. Kotter told Geldes that Hedstrom would take title in another name and that Hedstrom could not hear over a phone so she would answer questions for him. Hedstrom died in 2007. Hedstrom’s children from a prior marriage were appointed administrators. Title to one condominium vested fully in Kotter, the other was titled to the Kotter Family Trust. The administrators sued, alleging breach of fiduciary duty by a real estate agent and legal malpractice. Because the administrators failed to timely identify experts, the magistrate barred them from presenting expert testimony encompassing Kotter’s position as a real estate agent and Geldes’ position as an attorney. The district judge affirmed and the administrators did not appeal. The district court granted summary judgment because expert testimony was needed on the standard of care and because undisputed evidence demonstrated the units were titled in accordance with Hedstrom’s intent. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Ball v. Kotter" on Justia Law