Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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Respondent Arthur Sweatt appealed a circuit court order denying, in relevant part, his motions to reconsider certain orders in his divorce from Patricia Sweatt. He argued the court erred: (1) in denying his motion to abate the divorce; (2) in granting the motion of petitioner Kathleen Paine, administrator of the estate of Patricia Sweatt, to amend by substitution; (3) in distributing the marital property more than six months after the dissolution of the marriage; (4) in finding him, but not Paine, to have been non-compliant with court rules; (5) by denying him due process and equal protection of the law; and (6) in its valuation of the marital real property. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. View "In the Matter of Patricia Sweatt & Arthur Sweatt" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Wayne and Ruth Ross, trustees of the Wayne Ross Revocable Trust and the Ruth Ross Revocable Trust, respectively, appealed a superior court order in favor of defendants Donald Ross and Rossview Farm, LLC (the LLC). Plaintiffs contested findings that the parties entered into a lease for the plaintiffs’ lifetimes and that they had no right to evict the defendants pursuant to RSA 540:2, II(d) or (e) (2007). The trial court found that plaintiffs conceded that a June 23, 2006 document satisfied the statute of frauds because, in their post-trial memorandum, plaintiffs explained their position that the June 23, 2006 document “is a writing signed by all the parties that states the terms of the parties’ agreement. This document satisfies the statute of frauds and governs their relationship.” The “clear” language of the June 23, 2006 document, plaintiffs posited, created a yearly lease. However, plaintiffs also argued in the post-trial memorandum that defendants’ introduction of parol evidence of the parties’ intent to create a perpetual lease violated the statute of frauds because “the intent of the parties to create a perpetual lease must be clear from the face of the document and there must be a document to satisfy the statute of frauds.” Thus, plaintiffs did not concede that the June 23, 2006 document satisfied the statute of frauds for all purposes; instead, they contended that it “satisfies the statute of frauds” if the document was read to create a yearly lease. The New Hampshire Supreme Court vacated and remanded, finding the trial court’s finding that plaintiffs conceded the issue lacked evidentiary support, and concluded plaintiffs did not waive their statute of frauds argument by concession. View "Ross v. Ross" on Justia Law

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The decedent, Kathleen Mullin, a resident of Hancock, New Hampshire, died intestate in 2014. Her heirs at law were her three siblings: Michael Mullin, J. Stanley Mullin, Jr., and appellant Patricia Jackle. All of the heirs at law were California residents, as was the appellee Laura Bushley, a trustee. From 2008 until her death, the decedent lived in Hancock and owned real property there. She also owned real property in California, where she had lived for many years prior to 2008. Although the decedent did not have a will, in 2012, while in California, she executed a trust document (Trust) that had been drafted by a California attorney. The Trust contained a choice of law provision, stating that the laws of California governed the validity, construction, and administration of the Trust, except that all matters relating to real property were governed by the laws of the situs of that real property. Appellant filed an Inventory of Fiduciary listing the decedent’s estate as consisting of approximately $2.5 million worth of real estate and personal property. In August, the appellee filed an objection to the Inventory, claiming that it listed property that was owned by the Trust. Appellee filed suit in California seeking to transfer title to the decedent’s property to the Trust. Appellant objected to the transfer, challenging the suit on multiple procedural and jurisdictional grounds. The circuit court denied appellant’s motion, ruling: (1) that the court was “unable to make a ruling on the requests of the [appellant] regarding the legal and equitable title to the property or to declare that the situs of the property . . . is New Hampshire without appropriate testimony and evidence”; (2) that jurisdiction over the Trust was “properly before” the California court, and that California law must apply except with respect to the New Hampshire real estate; and (3) that the California court was “a more convenient forum” to hear the matter because “[e]vidence and witnesses would more easily be available” there, the decedent “lived in California for many years and utilized services of a California attorney and California financial advisor,” the Trust “was drafted in California,” and the “trustee and all three heirs-at-law, including the [appellant], are residents of California.” This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error in the circuit court’s denial of appellant’s motion, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Estate of Kathleen Mullin" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Estate of Thea Braiterman filed a petition for writ of certiorari challenging a final decision of the Administrative Appeals Unit (AAU) of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), that upheld the determination that applicant Thea Braiterman was ineligible for Medicaid-Old Age Assistance (Medicaid-OAA) benefits because her assets exceeded the eligibility threshold. On appeal, petitioner argued that the AAU erroneously found that the Thea G. Braiterman Irrevocable Trust (the Trust) was includable as an asset for the purpose of determining applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid-OAA benefits. Petitioner argued, and DHHS did not dispute, that petitioner’s challenge was not moot even though applicant had died prior to the conclusion of this matter. Given the facts of this case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court could not say that there were no circumstances under which payments from the Trust could be made “for the benefit” of the applicant. “Finally, we take this opportunity to stress that we have no doubt that self-settled, irrevocable trusts may, if so structured, so insulate trust assets that those assets will be deemed unavailable to the settlor.” The Trust in this case was not such a vehicle. In the Supreme Court's view, the Trust, as structured, allowed applicant “a degree of discretionary authority that would . . . permit [her] to enjoy her assets, preserve those assets for her heirs, and receive public assistance, to, in effect, have her cake and eat it too." As such, the Court denied certiorari. View "Petition of Estate of Thea Braiterman" on Justia Law

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Judith Mortner, temporary administrator of the estate of respondent Theodore Mortner (Husband), appealed, and petitioner, Lynn Mortner (Wife), cross-appealed a circuit court order abating the Wife’s divorce action and vacating its prior final divorce decree. Husband and Wife were married in July 1987. In October 2013, Wife filed a petition for divorce when she was 70 years old and still working and Husband was approximately 90 years old and still working. In July 2014, Husband, Wife, and their counsel signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) purporting to settle the divorce action. The MOU was filed with the court in September with a cover letter reminding the court that the divorce decree was not to issue until counsel notified the court that it could issue. On October 29, Husband’s counsel hand-delivered to the court a letter advising that the decree could now issue. On October 30, the court signed an order that decreed the parties divorced on the ground of irreconcilable differences, approved the MOU, and incorporated it as part of the divorce decree. Unbeknownst to the court, Husband died on either one or two days prior to its order. Also unbeknownst to the court, the parties on October 29, through their counsel, entered into an amendment to their proposed final decree of divorce and their MOU. Wife subsequently filed a motion to reconsider the issuance of the divorce decree, requesting the court to vacate the decree on the ground that, before the court had signed its October 30 order, Husband had died. In its appeal, the Estate argued that the trial court erred by abating the divorce action. In her cross-appeal, Wife argued that the Estate lacked standing to contest the abatement and that its appeal should therefore be dismissed. She also argued that the trial court erred when it allowed Husband’s counsel to appear at the hearing on her motion to abate the divorce. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. View "In the Matter of Lynn Mortner and Theodore Mortner" on Justia Law

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At the time of her death, decedent Muriel Mills she owned property in Manchester. She had granted a "home equity conversion mortgage" on the property to Financial Freedom Senior Funding Corporation. The mortgage deed was recorded at the Hillsborough County Registry of Deeds. The terms of the mortgage included a statutory power of sale that allowed Financial Freedom to foreclose upon the property under certain enumerated circumstances, including the death of the borrower. The terms also provided that the "Borrower shall have no personal liability for payment of the debt secured by this Security Instrument" and that the "Lender may enforce the debt only through the sale of the Property." Petitioner was appointed executor of the estate. By letter, counsel for petitioner notified Financial Freedom of the decedent's death and of the opening of the administration of her estate. Counsel also requested the current balance due on the mortgage debt as well as any information regarding "any assignment of the mortgage." Thereafter, Financial Freedom did not file notice of a claim or present a demand to the petitioner pursuant to RSA 556:1, :3 (2007). Later that year, counsel for Financial Freedom sent a letter to the estate explaining that she had been instructed to foreclose on the mortgage in the name of respondent under the power of sale contained in the mortgage. The letter also informed the estate that the note had been accelerated and the entire balance was "due and payable forthwith," and included the total amount of the balance due on the debt. In response, petitioner's counsel wrote to Financial Freedom claiming that it, "or any of its related entities, abandoned any interest[] that it may have had in the property" because it failed to file a claim within six months after the grant of administration of the estate. The next month, the mortgage was assigned to respondent and thereafter recorded at the Hillsborough County Registry of Deeds. Petitioner then filed a petition to quiet title in the circuit court, asserting that Financial Freedom had "waived, lost, or abandoned any interest that it would have had in the property" and, therefore, the circuit court could issue an order quieting title to the property so that the beneficiary named in the decedent's will could receive the property. Financial Freedom appeared at the hearing and moved to dismiss the quiet title action. The trial court ruled in Financial Freedom's favor, and petitioner appealed. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's decision to dismiss, the Supreme Court affirmed that dismissal. View "In re Estate of Muriel R. Mills " on Justia Law

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In 1993, John Houlahan and his wife, Theresa, established the "Theresa M. Houlahan Revocable Trust of 1993" containing the marital home. John was named successor trustee of, and granted certain powers over, the Theresa Trust. Upon the deaths of Theresa and John, the real property was to be distributed to their son, petitioner Thomas Houlahan. Theresa died in 1996. In 1997, John established the "John F. Houlahan 1997 Revocable Trust." John named his daughter (respondent) as successor trustee. In November 2002, John conveyed the real property by deed to himself, as trustee of the John Trust. John died in 2009. Under the terms of the John Trust, "[a]ny interest this trust may have in any real estate" was to be distributed in equal shares to four of his children: petitioner, respondent, John F. Houlahan, Jr., and Terrence B. Houlahan. In 2011, petitioner filed a "Petition for Injunction" seeking, among other things, an order that the property be returned to the Theresa Trust and that respondent, as successor trustee of the John Trust, be enjoined from making any attempt to dispose of the property. In late 2011, petitioner filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that there was "no genuine issue of material fact" that John's "actions in his capacity as Trustee violated the terms of [the Theresa Trust] and specific provisions of the Uniform Trust Code." Following a hearing, the trial court denied petitioner's motion for summary judgment, finding that there were many disputed factual issues that could not be decided on the pleadings. On appeal, petitioner argued that the trial court erred in granting respondent's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the transfer of the real estate in 2002 effectively terminated the trust and the petitioner's interest in the trust. He asserted that "[w]hen John breached his fiduciary duties, the trust gained an additional asset– a cause of action against John or his estate," and, thus, "[n]either [the petitioner's] beneficial interest nor the trust was terminated by John's conveyance." After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Theresa Trust did not terminate in 2002, and neither did the petitioner's interest therein. The trial court's finding, that there were "many disputed issues of material fact" that could not be decided on the pleadings, was not erroneous. Accordingly, the Court affirmed its denial of petitioner's motion for summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "In re Theresa Houlahan Trust" on Justia Law

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Respondent Hellen Couture appealed a probate court decision to grant petitioner Thomas Couture's petition to impose a constructive trust for the benefit of the decedent's heirs over certain life insurance proceeds paid to respondent upon the decedent's death. After review of the facts and circumstances of this case, the Supreme Court found no reversible error in the probate court's decision, and affirmed. View "In re Estate of Lucien Couture" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Appellant Kerry McCarty, as executrix of the Estate of Ruth C. McCarty, appealed a circuit court order denying her motion to dismiss the claim of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for repayment of medical assistance provided to the decedent through the State's Medicaid program. She argued the court erred by concluding that DHHS's claim was not barred by the statute of limitations. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Estate of Ruth C. McCarty" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Daniel Eaton appealed a circuit court order granting summary judgment in favor of his mother Mary Louise Eaton and her guardian Michael Eaton. This appeal arose from petitioner's attempts to be paid legal fees he incurred in guardianship proceedings involving his mother and other siblings. He alleged that he was entitled to the fees because he acted as his mother's attorney-in-fact pursuant to a durable general power of attorney. The trial court ruled that an acknowledgement-requirement of RSA 506:6, VII(a) was mandatory and therefore petitioner could not have been acting as Mary Lou Eaton's attorney-in-fact when he undertook the acts for which the legal fees were claimed] as a matter of law. Finding no error in the circuit court's order, the Supreme Court affirmed its decision.View "Eaton v. Eaton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates