Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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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

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The issue presented by this interlocutory appeal arose out of a will contest between the testator’s brother, Larry Lyons, and her nephew, Anthony Lobred. Larry filed a motion to strike the deposition testimony of Dr. Lara Clement, a treating physician of the testator, due to Lobred’s counsel’s alleged ex parte communication with Dr. Clement prior to her deposition. The trial court ordered that any testimony of Dr. Clement that was not discernable from the testator’s medical records would be inadmissible at trial. Lobred sought permission to file an interlocutory appeal and the Court granted Lobred’s petition. After review, the Supreme court held that the communication between Dr. Clement and Lobred’s attorney was acceptable ex parte communication; accordingly, reversed and remanded. View "In re Estate of Lyons" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Supreme Court has held “that the first court to properly take jurisdiction of a wrongful death action in our state courts shall, so long as the action is pending, have exclusive jurisdiction, and any other subsequently-filed action for the same death shall be of no effect.” Despite this holding, Janice Davis, after filing an action for the wrongful death of her father, Richard Davis, and while that action was pending, filed three additional, separate wrongful-death actions, two of which were against the same defendant. Because these three subsequent actions were of “no effect,” they were properly dismissed. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgments dismissing the three subsequently filed wrongful-death actions. View "Estate of Richard B. Davis v. Blaylock" on Justia Law

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While a resident at Cleveland Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC, (“Cleveland”), Annie Mae Gully fell and broke her hip. Following complications from a surgical procedure to repair her hip, Gully died six days later. Subsequently, suit was filed against Cleveland, alleging claims of negligence and gross negligence. Following a verdict in the Estate's favor, Cleveland moved for a new trial, arguing, among other things, that the jury had been allowed to hear undisclosed opinions from an expert and improper closing argument from counsel for the Estate. After review, the Supreme Court agreed with this contention, reversed the trial court, and remanded for a new trial. View "Cleveland Nursing and Rehabilitation, LLC v. Estate of Annie Mae Gully" on Justia Law

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The Lamar County Sheriff’s Department (LCSD) arrested Warren Lewis for possession with intent. Lewis ultimately pled guilty in federal court to possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of methamphetamine. Shortly thereafter, the State initiated a forfeiture proceeding and sought real property, personal property, and currency owned by Lewis. The trial court awarded the State all of the property sought. Lewis moved for a new trial, or alternatively, to amend the judgment, which the trial judge denied. During the pendency of these proceedings, Lewis died. He had previously transferred all of his property into a revocable trust, naming David Smith as trustee. As trustee of Lewis’ revocable trust, Smith appealed. Mississippi law required a nexus between the offense and the property in order to render the property forfeitable. Here, the State failed to establish the required nexus between some of Lewis’ property and his criminal conduct. As such, the Supreme Court affirmed forfeiture of certain property for their direct nexus to Lewis' crimes, but reversed as to others. View "Warren L. Lewis Revocable Trust v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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James Oldrum Smith Jr. (Father) died in 2006. This appeal stemmed from his children’s disagreements over the handling of Father’s estate (Estate). These disagreements resulted in lengthy litigation. The Estate was complicated by the fact that, prior to his death, Father created a family trust (Trust); however, he died within three years from the creation of the Trust, meaning the money in the Trust became taxable to the Estate, leaving the Estate otherwise unable to pay its taxes due to liquidity issues. The Estate borrowed $2,020,000 from the Trust, secured by a promissory note and deed of trust, to help pay the taxes. Some of the siblings, who would have received a greater amount of money from the Trust than from the Estate, later took issue with the loan, specifically that the amount now owed on the loan was much greater than what the other siblings, the trustee, and the co-executors claimed. As a result, the aggrieved siblings filed several actions challenging the trustees’ and the co-executors’ decisions, particularly as related to the loan between the Trust and the Estate. The special chancellor appointed to the case determined that the trustees and co-executors did not breach any duty owed to the beneficiaries and that the loan was valid in the amount of $2,523,004.83 plus four percent interest per annum. At issue here was the result of the chancellor’s judgment, and finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In The Matter of The Estate of James Oldrum Smith, Jr." on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Minor Tamarcus Ewing and his mother were involved in a motor-vehicle accident. Tamarcus sustained severe injuries and his mother died. Tommy Lee Ewing, Tamarcus’s father, was appointed guardian of Tamarcus’s person and estate. Tommy filed a negligence complaint on behalf of Tamarcus. At some point, the parties settled the circuit-court case. The Chancery Court sealed the guardianship case file on stipulation and agreement of the parties and attorneys of record in the circuit-court action. Then in 2010, the chancellor removed Tommy as guardian of Tamarcus’s estate after finding that seventy-five thousand dollars in annuity payments had been redirected from a frozen guardianship account into an unfrozen account jointly owned by Tommy and Tamarcus. The court also found that Tommy had spent those funds without court approval. Chokwe Lumumba and Roy Perkins were appointed as coguardians of the estate. Tommy was not removed as the guardian of Tamarcus’s person. Tommy later sought a copy of the sealed settlement documents after he had been removed as guardian. The chancellor denied his request. But because he had access to those documents as guardian and participated in the settlement process, no purpose was served by keeping the sealed documents from him. So, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded with instructions for the chancellor to grant him access to the documents. View "Ewing, Jr. v. Neese" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Charlene Ivy was admitted to East Mississippi State Hospital (“EMSH”) in May 2012, and she died on July 17, 2012. Alleging medical negligence by EMSH staff, Ivy’s son Spencer sent a Notice of Claim letter via certified mail dated July 11, 2013, to EMSH Director Charles Carlisle. Carlisle signed for the letter on July 15, 2013, as evidenced by a return receipt. The definitive question in this appeal was whether Carlisle, as the Director of the East Mississippi State Hospital (“EMSH”), was the proper “chief executive officer” for notice purposes under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”), as opposed to the Executive Director of the Department of Mental Health (“DMH”). The trial judge found that “proper pre-suit notice” required service “upon the executive director of [DMH], not a facility manager of one of the institutions under its jurisdiction and control.” The trial judge found further that the statute of limitations was not tolled because Ivy had “failed to comply with the mandatory provisions of Section 11-46-11(1)” and dismissed Ivy’s complaint with prejudice. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that EMSH’s Director was the CEO under the MTCA, and that Ivy provided the "proper pre-suit notice. View "Ivy v. East Mississippi State Hospital" on Justia Law