Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
by
In this dispute among siblings regarding amendments to an inter vivos trust and gifts of interest in a family limited partnership established by Augusta Hathaway the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court and vacated the grant of a new trial as to Plaintiff's breach of fiduciary duty claim, holding that the order granting a new trial was unnecessary. A jury found that Hathaway lacked the testamentary capacity to amend her trust and that Defendant Marion Louttit, Hathaway's daughter, had unduly influenced Hathaway, thereby causing Hathaway to execute challenged amendments and gifts. The jury further found that Louttit breached her fiduciary duty as trustee. After the jury's verdict, the trial justice granted Louttit's motion for new trial and judgment as a matter of law as to the fiduciary duty verdict because Plaintiff Wenda Branson, Hathaway's daughter, had failed to prove damages. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in all respects, holding (1) Branson's claims were not barred by the equitable doctrine of laches; (2) Louttit's motions for judgment as a matter of law and for new trial on the issue of undue influence was properly denied; and (3) the grant of a new trial on the issue of fiduciary duty is vacated as superfluous. View "Branson v. Louttit" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
In this dispute surrounding the distribution of the assets of the parties' deceased mother the Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the superior court with respect to the substance of two orders of the probate court, holding that two bank accounts should be distributed pursuant to paragraph three of the decedent's will and that there was no basis to remove the current executrix of the decedent's estate. The decedent's children were Michaela, Mark, Lizbeth, and Lisa. Lizbeth was named executrix of the decedent's estate. The probate court determined that the two accounts at issue were part of the "general inventory" of the estate and, therefore, the proceeds of those accounts should be distributed under paragraph six of Catherine's will - i.e., divided equally among all four of Catherine's children. Lizbeth appealed. When Michaela and Mark unsuccessfully sought to remove Lizabeth as executrix, they appealed. The two appeals were consolidated. The superior court concluded that the accounts were not estate assets and, pursuant to paragraph three of the decedent's will, should be distributed to Lisa and Lizbeth respectively. The court affirmed the probate court's decision not to remove Lizabeth as executrix. The Supreme Court affirmed both judgments of the superior court, holding that the trial justice did not err in its judgment. View "Larkin v. Arthurs" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court dismissing Appellant's probate appeal after finding that, because Appellant was under guardianship, he lacked the capacity to retain legal counsel and file an appeal to the superior court in his own name, holding that the superior court properly dismissed Appellant's appeal on the ground that Appellant lacked the capacity to bring and maintain an action in his own name. On appeal, Appellant argued that the superior court erred in dismissing his probate appeal because he was only under a limited guardianship and was thus entitled to pursue the probate appeal on his own. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant was not under a limited guardianship, but, rather, a full guardianship, and did not retain the right to pursue this action on his own behalf. View "In re Estate of Amet Chelo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
The Supreme Court remanded with directions to modify the superior court's April 22, 2013 attorneys' fees order, affirmed in part and vacated in part the April 26, 2013 judgment of the superior court, and affirmed the court's June 5, 2013 order, holding that the sanctions order was overly broad and the amount of attorneys' fees was excessive. This case began with a dispute over Appellant's aunt's estate after she died. The April 22, 2013 order awarded attorneys' fees to opposing counsel. The April 26, 2013 judgment denied and dismissed Appellant's probate appeal and prohibited Appellant from filing pleadings or other documents in the superior court unless signed by a licensed attorney. The June 5, 2013 order denied Appellant's motions to vacate that were filed pursuant to either Rule 59 or Rule 60 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court held (1) the sanctions order was overly broad in duration, infringing on Appellant's right of access to the courts; (2) a twenty-five percent reduction in the amount of attorneys' fees to be awarded was appropriate; and (3) Appellant's contentions on appeal with respect to her motions to vacate were unavailing. View "In re Estate of Elizabeth Brown" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court dismissing Plaintiff’s probate court appeals for his failure to comply with several court orders, holding that the superior court justice properly exercised his discretion in dismissing Plaintiff’s appeals. Ostensibly acting as successor executor for the wills of two former clients, Appellant challenged probate court orders relating to guardianship decrees. The superior court dismissed Appellant’s five probate court appeals for Appellant’s failure to comply with the court’s orders. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the superior court justice did not abuse his discretion; and (2) because Appellant’s representations to the probate courts, the superior court, and the Supreme Court were not as forthcoming as the rules of procedure require, the case is remanded to allow Defendants an opportunity to file a motion for sanctions if they so choose. View "Malinou v. Neri" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court granting Plaintiff’s request for declaratory relief and prohibiting Defendant from transferring assets of the decedent’s irrevocable living trust into the decedent’s estate. Plaintiff and Defendant were the two surviving children of the decedent. After Defendant was appointed as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking to prevent Defendant from transferring the assets of the irrevocable trust into the decedent’s estate. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant intended to transfer assets from the irrevocable trust to the decedent’s estate by exercising the limited power of appointment in a provision of the irrevocable trust. The district court issued a decision in favor of Plaintiff. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant’s intended exercise of the limited power of appointment contained in the decedent’s irrevocable living trust was invalid. View "Jaffe v. Pournaras" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court granting Plaintiff’s request for declaratory relief and prohibiting Defendant from transferring assets of the decedent’s irrevocable living trust into the decedent’s estate. Plaintiff and Defendant were the two surviving children of the decedent. After Defendant was appointed as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking to prevent Defendant from transferring the assets of the irrevocable trust into the decedent’s estate. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant intended to transfer assets from the irrevocable trust to the decedent’s estate by exercising the limited power of appointment in a provision of the irrevocable trust. The district court issued a decision in favor of Plaintiff. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant’s intended exercise of the limited power of appointment contained in the decedent’s irrevocable living trust was invalid. View "Jaffe v. Pournaras" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
Plaintiff, the grandnephew of the decedent, filed this action against Defendant, the decedent’s sister and the beneficiary of an Amica Insurance Company annuity policy created by the decedent. The complaint alleged forgery, fraud, manipulation, false pretenses, and misrepresentation. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Defendant. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial justice did not misapply the law to the evidence; (2) the trial justice did not overlook or misconceive material evidence pertaining to the beneficiary-change forms; (3) the trial justice did not err in failing to take judicial notice of the findings made by another superior court justice after a hearing on Plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction; (4) the was no error on the part of the superior court in refusing to shift the burden of proof to prove absence of mistake; and (5) the trial justice did not err in finding that Defendant was forthright and credible. View "Quillen v. Macera" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
Plaintiff filed a claim against Testator’s estate for $2 million. The superior court awarded Plaintiff the amount requested under the provisions of the Testator’s last will and testament. The hearing justice then reduced the $2 million by the proceeds of a life insurance policy, ultimately granting summary judgment to Plaintiff in the amount of $1,550,000. Thereafter, the hearing justice awarded Plaintiff the requested amount of attorney’s fees but denied her request for prejudgment interest. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the trial justice, holding that the trial justice erred in granting summary judgment where this matter required fact-finding and conclusions of law with respect to Testator’s intent because the will did not clearly specify under what circumstances Plaintiff was to receive the sum of $2 million or other amount; and (2) an earlier stipulation entered in the family court did not control the outcome of this case in accordance with the principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel. Remanded. View "Glassie v. Doucette" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
At dispute in this case was an allegedly underfunded trust that was created by the decedent, Donelson Glassie (Donelson), for the benefit of his daughter, the late Jacquelin Glassie (Jacquelin), in accordance with a property settlement agreement between Jacquelin’s divorcing parents, Donelson and Marcia Glassie. After Donelson died, Jacquelin filed a claim against his estate, alleging that her father breached the property settlement agreement by failing to properly fund the trust. The claim was denied. Jacquelin then filed this action alleging breach of contract in that Donelson failed to carry out the provisions of the property settlement agreement. Jacquelin then died. Alison Glassie was appointed executrix of Jacqulin’s estate and was substituted as plaintiff in this action. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the executor of Donelson’s estate, concluding that the plaintiff lacked standing to sue the estate because, generally, only a trustee may institute an action on behalf of the beneficiaries of a trust. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the plaintiff lacked the requisite standing to sue her father’s estate for benefits she would have received based on her status as the beneficiary of the trust. View "Glassie v. Doucette" on Justia Law