Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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This appeal stemmed from a Chancery Court judgment setting aside inter vivos gifts made by Sheila West. Acting through a durable power of attorney granted by her mother, Dorothy Johnson, Sheila West removed her brother’s, niece’s, and nephew’s names from certificates of deposit originally created by Dorothy Johnson, and replaced them with her own name and the names of her two daughters. Sheila’s brother, Ron Johnson, petitioned the chancery court to set aside these amendments as an improper transfer of an inter vivos gift. Following a trial on the matter, the chancellor found that Sheila did not overcome a presumption of undue influence in making what amounted to inter vivos gifts and thereby reverted ownership of the CDs to their original form. THe Mississippi Supreme Court found that because Dorothy Johnson retained an ownership interest in all of the CDs at issue, neither the original conveyance nor Sheila’s subsequent transfers could be considered inter vivos gifts. Therefore, the chancellor erred in his analysis of the issue. Also at issue in this matter was whether Sheila West engaged in self-dealing under the durable power of attorney granted to her by Dorothy Johnson. Finding that Sheila failed to overcome the burden of undue influence created by the confidential relationship between herself and Dorothy, the Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s decision to revert the CDs to their status prior to Sheila’s 2010 amendments. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Dorothy Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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This appeal stemmed from a January 2016 order by the Lincoln County Chancery Court adjudicating minor Kevin Moore the heir of Travis Lynn Weems, who died in an automobile accident in July 2014. Dauwanna Mitchell, Weems’s mother, appealed that judgment, claiming it was invalid because Weems was never adjudicated to be Moore’s natural father due to a paternity action filed in 2007 that was dismissed and, as Mitchell claimed, never reinstated. Mitchell also claimed a final judgment entered in February 2011 terminating Weems’s parental rights was improperly revised by the chancery court in October 2015 under Rule 60 of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure. Consolidated with this appeal was another appeal by Mitchell concerning the chancery court’s 2014 judgment granting letters of administration based on an administrative-letters petition filed by the Chancery Clerk of Lincoln County. Both appealed raised the same claims of error: that the chancery court’s order adjudicating heirship was invalid because paternity never was adjudicated, and the chancery court erred in revising the February 2011 termination judgment. Finding no merit in Mitchell’s assignments of error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court’s judgment adjudicating Kevin Moore the heir of Travis Weems. View "Mitchell v. Moore" on Justia Law

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Richard Howarth, Jr. died in an airplane crash in 2012. Howarth was piloting the plane, which was the property of M&H Ventures, LLC. Howarth was also the sole member of the M&H. In 2013, Howarth’s widow, Cyndy, as executrix of Howarth’s estate, wrongful death beneficiary of Howarth, and next friend of minor daughter Cynthia Howarth, along with adult daughter Juliet Howarth McDonald (the wrongful death beneficiaries), filed suit against the LLC, alleging that Howarth’s death had been caused by the negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness of M&H Ventures and others. M&H Ventures filed a motion to dismiss, and, subsequently, a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the wrongful death beneficiaries could not recover because the success of their claims depended on proving that Howarth’s own negligence had caused his death. In response, the wrongful death beneficiaries argued that, because M&H Ventures, as an LLC, owned the aircraft and all of Howarth’s negligent actions had been performed as a member of this LLC, they could recover from M&H Ventures for Howarth’s negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of M&H Ventures. Because the comparative negligence statute prevented a plaintiff from recovering for negligence attributable to the injured person, and Howarth’s wrongful death beneficiaries were seeking recovery for Howarth’s own negligence, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Howarth v. M & H Ventures, LLC" on Justia Law

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An interlocutory appeal arose from a 2010 civil suit filed by Carol Clement against Russell Puckett. After Puckett’s death in 2014, Clement substituted the Estate of Russell Puckett (the “Estate”) as the defendant in the suit and served the Estate. The Estate moved to dismiss the suit due to failure to timely serve process under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 4(h). The Estate argued that the statute of limitations had expired before Clement perfected service. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The Estate appealed, arguing the trial court erred in denying the motion to dismiss because: (1) Clement failed to show good cause for failing to serve Puckett within the statute of limitations; and (2) it did not waive its statute-of-limitations defense. Clement argued the trial court properly denied the motion to dismiss since she demonstrated good cause and the Estate waived its defense of the statute of limitations. Assuming all of Clement’s extensions of time were proper and tolled the statute of limitations, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded she still failed to perfect service before the expiration of the statute of limitations, and her suit was thus barred. The statute of limitations began running in this case on September 11, 2009. On June 11, 2010, Clement filed the complaint and tolled the statutes with ninety-three days remaining. The statute began running again in the interim periods between the third and fourth extensions of time and the fourth and fifth extensions of time. After the fifth extension expired on February 28, 2012, the statute of limitations resumed running and expired on March 16, 2012. Clement did not serve process on Puckett or the Estate until August 25, 2014. Therefore, Clement’s suit was barred by the statute of limitations, and the trial court erred in denying the Estate’s motion to dismiss. View "Estate of Russell Puckett v. Clement" on Justia Law

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This civil action arose out of the alleged mishandling of the Conservatorship of Victoria Newsome. Victoria Newsome’s mother and conservator, Marilyn Newsome, filed suit against former chancellor Joe Dale Walker, Chancellor David Shoemake, and other parties. Victoria’s severely infirm condition was the result of medical malpractice. A trust was established out of the proceeds from settlement of the malpractice case. Newsome raised numerous claims seeking redress, and a full accounting of the conservatorship, when the two chancellors were sanctioned by the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined the doctrine of judicial immunity applied to bar Newsome’s claims, made on behalf of the Victoria Newsome Conservatorship, against former chancellor Joe Dale Walker and Chancellor David Shoemake. The Court therefore affirmed the judgment of the Chancery Court of Simpson County granting a Rule 54(b) dismissal. In addition, the Court granted Keely McNulty’s Motion to Strike Allegation and others involved in the administration of the conservatorship. View "Newsome v. Shoemake" on Justia Law

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Anita White appealed the Chancery Court of DeSoto County’s confirmation of title to certain real property located in Yalobusha County to Charles Thomas White (“Tommy”). Anita claimed the property through the residuary clause of Charles William White’s (“Bill’s”) will. Tommy claimed the property through an earlier conveyance from his father and long-time partner, Bill. The chancellor found the earlier conveyance valid. Anita appealed. Finding no error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of the Estate of C.W. White v. White" on Justia Law

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The Chancery Court found that Ronald Lampkin had breached his fiduciary duties to Limestone Products, Inc. (“Limestone”). Lampkin and James Oldrum Smith Jr. jointly owned and operated Limestone with a line of credit they each personally guaranteed. Upon Smith’s death and his estate’s refusal to guarantee the line of credit, Lampkin formed Delta Stone, a new corporation which operated on the same property, used the same facilities, and sold rock to the same clients to whom Limestone had sold. Lampkin sought a declaratory judgment against the estate that he was not violating his fiduciary duties to Limestone. The executors of the estate counterclaimed for lost profits and attorney’s fees. At the liability stage of the bifurcated trial, the chancellor determined that Lampkin had breached his fiduciary duty to Limestone by usurping a corporate opportunity. In the damages stage of the trial, the chancellor considered expert testimony, awarded damages, and denied the executors’ request for attorney’s fees, expert-witness fees, and punitive damages. The executors appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and found that the chancellor had abused his discretion in calculating the damages award. The Supreme Court remanded for the chancellor to re-evaluate damages. On remand, the chancellor reassessed the damages due to Limestone as a result of Lampkin’s breach of his fiduciary duties. The executors appeal again. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s judgment on every issue except for the calculation of lost assets. Concerning the calculation of lost assets, it reversed and rendered judgment for $64,363.50. View "Lane v. Lampkin" on Justia Law

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Under Mississippi civil discovery rules, a party who fails to attend his own properly noticed deposition may be sanctioned. Here, the plaintiff in a will contest intentionally skipped out on his deposition. This prompted the chancellor to grant the defendant’s motion for sanctions, dismissing the will contest. While this sanction was harsh, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded it was within the chancellor’s discretion to impose. The Court thus affirmed. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Robert Ernie Johnson" on Justia Law

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A widow challenged the Court of Appeals’ finding persuasive that she abandoned her marriage; when her husband died, she received only a child’s share of his estate. After dating for approximately six months; Sarah Young and Joe Estes married in 2006. Young entered the marriage with four natural children and three adopted minor grandchildren; Estes entered with several grown children. After marrying Estes, Young continued to maintain a home with her grandchildren where she had lived prior to the marriage. As noted by the chancellor, Estes’s and Young’s “living arrangement was somewhat non-traditional.” Despite this, the record shows that Young split her time between her children and Estes. She testified that she slept at his house when she was not working nights and prepared at least one meal a day for Estes. Following a short hospitalization, Young contended Estes’ behavior changed. She testified he lashed out at her. After Estes accused Young of adultery, she elected to separate from him. Estes’s family members testified that they, unlike Young, were very supportive of Estes following the hospitalization. In addition to finding Young absent, several family members testified that Young was stealing groceries to feed her own children. After Estes had refused to seek medical or mental help, Young initiated involuntary-commitment proceedings against Estes. The evaluation concluded that Estes competent, and not a danger to himself or anyone else. Estes was released from psychiatric care. Immediately thereafter, Young filed for divorce. Shortly after Estes received notice of the final divorce hearing, he shot and killed himself. Estes’s will did not provide for Young to inherit anything from his estate. Young renounced the will. The trial court granted Young a $12,000 widow’s allowance as well as a one-fifth, child’s share of the estate. She appealed, challenging the child’s share of the estate. Finding that the chancellor did not manifestly err when he determined that Young had not abandoned the marital relationship and was entitled to a child’s share of Estes’s estate, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, affirmed the judgment of the Chancery Court, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Estate of Joe Howard Estes v. Young-Estes" on Justia Law

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In a matter of first impression, the Mississippi Supreme Court addressed testamentary provisions in a contract. A provision in a lease stated that upon the lessor’s death, the lessor’s rights (primarily the right to receive lease payments) transferred to the lessor’s daughter, who was not a party to the lease. The lessor died, and the question presented under the facts of this case was whether the provision of the lease or the provisions of the lessor’s will determined the owner of the lease payments. The distinction turns on whether the instrument conveys any present interest to the grantee. The relevant question was when the interest vests in the grantee and whether it may be modified during the grantor’s life, not who has the right to prevent any interest from vesting. Because the grantee lacked a vested right, the provision at issue here was testamentary in nature and treated as a will. The parties agree the lease failed to comply with the statutory formalities required of a will, so the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse the chancellor’s decision finding the provision enforceable. View "Estate of Rose Greer v. Ball" on Justia Law