Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
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Defendant Jerry Newton appealed his convictions by jury on three counts of exploitation of an elderly, disabled, or impaired adult in violation of RSA 631:9, I(a) (2016) and RSA 631:10 (2016). Defendant became trustee of the Newton Family Trust and retained power of attorney over both the victim (defendant’s mother) and her husband (defendant’s father) in 2014 as a result of their failing health. The Trust created a fiduciary duty in the trustee and specified that the assets and money held by the Trust were to be used only for the benefit of the victim and her husband until their death. The victim’s husband died on December 21, 2015. By July 2017, the New Hampshire Attorney General had launched an investigation into allegations that defendant exploited the victim for large sums of money. Defendant argued the trial court erred when, at trial, it excluded out-of-court statements made by the defendant’s parents and a financial planner. He also appealed the trial court’s denial of his post-conviction motion for a new trial based upon ineffective assistance of counsel. The State cross-appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by ordering a hearing to review and reconsider the sentence. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's orders. View "New Hampshire v. Newton" on Justia Law

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Petitioner David Apostoloff appealed a circuit court order dismissing his petition to validate a purported amendment to the Omega Trust. He contended the court erred in dismissing his petition by finding the grantor did not substantially comply with the terms of the trust regarding amendments, and that there was not clear and convincing evidence that the grantor intended to amend his trust. Taking all of the facts alleged in the petition as true, and applying them against the applicable law, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the allegations constituted a basis for legal relief. Thus, petitioner has sufficiently pled his case to survive a motion to dismiss. Accordingly, the circuit court’s order was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "In re The Omega Trust" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Estate of Peter Dodier, appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) order denying the estate’s claim for workers’ compensation and death benefits following Peter Dodier’s death. The CAB denied the estate’s claim based on its determination that Dodier’s anxiety and depression were not a compensable injury. It therefore did not reach the issue of death benefits. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that Dodier’s anxiety and depression were compensable, it reversed the CAB’s decision and remanded for its consideration of whether the estate was entitled to death benefits. View "Appeal of Estate of Peter Dodier" on Justia Law

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Respondent Ryanne Earley appealed a final divorce decree awarding petitioner Wm. Michael Earley part of her interest in an irrevocable life insurance trust established by her parents. She argued the trial court erred by classifying her interest in the trust as marital property subject to equitable division under RSA 458:16-a (Supp. 2020). Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court’s decision was contrary to RSA 564-B:5-502 (2019), it reversed in part, vacated the remainder of the property division determination, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In the Matter of Wm. & Ryanne Earley" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Christopher Dow appealed a probate court decision finding he was not a pretermitted heir under his mother’s, Marie G. Dow’s, will. He argued the probate division erred in failing to apply New Hampshire’s pretermitted heir statute to her will, and that, under New Hampshire law, he was a pretermitted heir and, thus, entitled to his intestate share of his mother’s estate. Respondent Leslie Dow, the testator’s ex-daughter-in-law and primary beneficiary of her will, countered that the probate division properly applied Massachusetts’ pretermitted heir statute to the will in accordance with the will’s provision that “[the] estate is to be administered and enforced according to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” Following oral argument before a 3JX panel, the case was submitted to the full court for decision. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the probate division’s decision to apply the Massachusetts pretermitted heir statute in determining whether the petitioner was a pretermitted heir under the will, and reversed the probate division’s conclusion that the petitioner was not a pretermitted heir. The Supreme Court held that petitioner was a pretermitted heir under New Hampshire law, as properly applied, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "In re Estate of Marie G. Dow" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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Appellant Paul O’Neill, acting as trustee of the Lorraine R. O’Neill Revocable Trust – 2004, appealed a probate court order granting a petition for ancillary estate administration of certain New Hampshire real estate. O’Neill argued, among other things, that the probate division lacked subject matter jurisdiction to grant the petition because it was filed on behalf of the estate of a non-New Hampshire decedent, and the petition did not represent that a court outside of New Hampshire had made a judicial determination that the estate was insolvent. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the grant of administration and remanded all remaining issues to the probate division for further proceedings. View "In re Estate of Lorraine R. O'Neill" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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Defendants Alan Johnson and William Saturley were the former co-trustees of the 2004 David A. Hodges, Sr. Irrevocable GST Exempt Trust and the 2004 David A. Hodges, Sr. Irrevocable GST Non-Exempt Trust (collectively, the 2004 Trusts). In 2017, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld a circuit court decision that set aside “decantings” from the 2004 Trusts and removed the Former Co-Trustees. The Court specifically left “for another day the issue of whether [the Former Co- Trustees] are entitled to indemnification for the fees and expenses incurred in this proceeding” because, at that time, the trial court had not ruled upon the issue. In this appeal, the Former Co-Trustees challenged the determination, recommended by a Judicial Referee and approved by the Circuit Court, that, except for attorney’s fees and costs incurred for certain administrative tasks: (1) they were not entitled to be reimbursed from the 2004 Trusts for the post-trial fees and costs they personally incurred to defend the decantings; and (2) they had to reimburse the 2004 Trusts for the fees and costs the trusts incurred to defend the decantings at trial. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hodges v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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In February 2020, the 79-year-old ward was a patient at a hospital in Lebanon, New Hampshire. At that time, the hospital filed a petition to appoint a guardian over the ward’s person and estate. The hospital alleged a guardianship was necessary because the ward “has persistent cognitive impairment due to an anoxic brain injury and a major [neurocognitive] disorder,” which “renders him unable to provide for his personal needs for health care, food, clothing, shelter and safety” or to “manage his finances or estate.” The court held a hearing in March at which only the ward’s adult children were present. The ward’s children testified that, in October 2019, when their father was in the intensive care unit, they executed a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) order for him. The ward had no DNR order previously. When the ward’s condition improved and he was transferred to a medical ward, he specifically told his children that he wanted the DNR order removed. Based upon the evidence at the March hearing, the court found that the ward was incapacitated and that a guardianship was necessary as a means of providing for his “continuing care ... and for the prudent management of [his] property and financial affairs.” The court limited the guardian’s authority to execute either a DNR order or an order limiting life-sustaining treatment. In August 2020, the guardian moved for a hearing to ask the court to remove the limitations on her authority regarding the ward’s medical care. The guardian averred that the ward, who now resided in a nursing home, was in need of dialysis but had refused dialysis on three occasions, and refused future treatment. The guardian asserted that, by declining to resume dialysis, “the ward himself has decided to stop his own life sustaining treatment,” and that “without having a DNR order in place and without anyone else having the ability to sign [one],” it will be “quite problematic and painful for the ward.” The ward’s attorney informed the court that the ward was “very clear that he did not want a DNR Order.” Upon interlocuroty transfer without a ruling from the circuit court, the New Hampshire Supreme Court accepted review of issues arising from the ward's guardianship. The Court determined that although the ward had a guardian to make health care decisions on his behalf, the trial court had limited the guardian’s authority to withhold life-sustaining treatment, including whether to execute a DNR order on his behalf. "Under these circumstances, given the ward’s lack of capacity to make health care decisions generally, and assuming that he does not have a valid and unrevoked living will or an authorized agent under a durable power of attorney for health care, the process for appointing a surrogate, as described in RSA 137-J:34-:37, applies. ... Accordingly, it does not appear that at this time, a DNR order may be executed on his behalf by his health care providers." View "In re Guardianship of D.E." on Justia Law

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Respondent L.N. appealed a circuit court order denying a motion to authorize removal of life support filed by her guardian. In 2018, tests indicated that L.N. had suffered a stroke. L.N. was 69 years old at the time of the orders on appeal, and had “enjoyed a full, active, independent life” prior to her stroke on September 12. Thereafter, L.N. remained in the hospital on a ventilator to assist with breathing and a nasal-gastric tube for nutrition and hydration. L.N.’s attorney informed the court in a motion for expedited hearing that “[a]fter consulting with personnel, it has been indicated that [L.N.] will probably not survive the massive stroke which precipitated this hospitalization, but there is no one with authority to act.” There was no evidence that L.N. had previously executed either a living will or a durable power of attorney for healthcare. M.C., a former co-worker, was ultimately appointed as guardian. Based upon conversations, the guardian’s sense was that L.N. “would want to be allowed to have a natural death.” Notwithstanding testimony by L.N.’s caregivers and guardian, the trial court concluded that, “in cases of doubt, the Court must assume that the patient would choose to defend life” and did “not find that [L.N.] - under the facts in this case - would choose to have life support removed and a natural death process to occur.” On appeal, L.N. argues that the probate court erred in determining that “it had jurisdiction to make a determination as to the appropriateness, or lack thereof, of the removal of life support in the case of a patient who was in a persistent vegetative state” where “no party challeng[ed] the proposed removal.” She further argued that, even if the court had the authority to exercise its discretion in this matter, its findings were unsupported by the testimony. The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the order denying authority to remove life support and vacated, in part, the order appointing the guardian: “Because any limitation on the guardian’s RSA 464-A:25, I(d) authority after the October 17 hearing was not supported by the statutorily-required finding that it was “desirable for the best interests of [L.N.],” RSA 464-A:25, II, we vacate that limitation. Without that limitation, the guardianship order’s grant of the ‘right and authority to determine if refusal should be made or consent should be given to any medical or other professional care, counseling, treatment, or service’ constitutes a general grant of authority that includes the authority to withdraw life-sustaining treatment in appropriate circumstances.” View "In re Guardianship of L.N." on Justia Law

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The Second Church of Christ, Scientist, Melbourne (Australia) appealed a circuit court order denying it standing to request affirmative relief and enforce certain charitable trusts created by the will of Mary Baker Eddy. Mary Baker Eddy founded the Church of Christian Science and, upon her death in 1910, her will established two testamentary trusts, known as the Clause VI Trust and Clause VIII Trust. In previous litigation concerning these trusts, we upheld the validity of the trusts and established that the bequest in Clause VIII was to be held in trust for two purposes, church building repair and “promoting and extending the religion of Christian Science as taught by [Mrs. Eddy].” The underlying litigation commenced in 2015, when Second Church, an alleged qualified beneficiary of the Clause VIII Trust, sought to review, and potentially object to, the annual accounting filed by the trustees. In March 2018, the trial court issued an order finding that Second Church failed to satisfy its burden to demonstrate that it had standing. The trial court acknowledged the general rule that when a trust is determined to be charitable, it becomes the duty of the attorney general to ensure that the rights of the public in the trust are protected and that the trust is properly executed. The court further noted that New Hampshire law was unclear as to whether a possible beneficiary of a charitable trust, like Second Church here, had standing. Looking to other jurisdictions for guidance, the trial court determined that most jurisdictions have ruled that a possible beneficiary is generally not entitled to sue for enforcement of the trust. After considering how other courts have applied the doctrine of special interest standing, the trial court applied a five-factor test, often referred to as the Blasko test. The trial court found that none of the factors weighed in favor of granting Second Church standing. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's judgment and affirmed Second Church lacked standing. View "In re Trust of Mary Baker Eddy" on Justia Law