Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
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Plaintiffs, Murl Tribble and Janet Sargent, and Defendant, Polly Pickens, were three adult sisters involved in a dispute over the Estate of their deceased mother. Plaintiffs alleged (1) beginning at the time of their father’s death, Defendant engaged in a scheme to convert their mother’s property to her own use, to the prejudice of the Estate and Plaintiffs as beneficiaries; and (2) Defendant attempted to deal her scheme by not disclosing non-probate assets while acting as executrix of their mother’s estate. The jury awarded Plaintiffs damages in the amount of $94,124, which the circuit court directed to be paid into the Estate. Defendant filed a motion for a new trial, which the circuit court denied. The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Defendant’s motion for a new trial, holding (1) Defendant’s argument that the Supreme Court should dismiss this action as untimely was without merit; (2) the circuit court did not err in entering judgment as a matter of law to the effect that a fiduciary relationship existed between Defendant and her mother; and (3) Plaintiffs established a sufficient factual basis for their claims of breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference with Plaintiffs’ expectancy, conversion, constructive fraud, and actual fraud to go to the jury. View "Pickens v. Tribble" on Justia Law

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After eighty-six-year-old Helen Graham died, Graham’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a hospital. One of Graham’s adult children, Betty Asbury, died before a settlement agreement was reached with the hospital. The circuit court approved the settlement agreement and awarded equal shares of the settlement proceeds to Graham’s six surviving children. Asbury’s estate subsequently argued that because Asbury was alive at the time of her mother’s death, Asbury’s estate was entitled to share in the proceeds of her mother’s wrongful death settlement. The circuit court ruled in favor of Asbury’s estate. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that under the West Virginia wrongful death act, Asbury’s estate was entitled to a share of the wrongful death settlement proceeds because Asbury’s right of action vested upon Graham’s death, rather than at the time the wrongful death settlement proceeds were distributed. View "Graham v. Asbury" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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Before she died, Decedent executed a Will. The Will had an “Exhibit A” attached to it at the time the Will was submitted to probate. The exhibit set forth bequests made by Decedent to various relatives. Both Exhibit A and the Will contained handwritten notices. After a dispute arose between the co-executors of the Will and some of the beneficiaries of the Will concerning the administration of Decedent’s estate, the co-executors filed a petition for declaratory relief. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the beneficiaries, concluding (1) Exhibit A to the Will was properly incorporated by reference into the Will; (2) the handwritten notations found on the Will and Exhibit A that were made after the date the Will was executed were “surplusage” and could be disregarded; and (3) Decedent intended Exhibit A to be incorporated into the Will. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was insufficient evidence to allow Exhibit A to be incorporated by reference into the Will. View "Cyfers v. Cyfers" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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In 2009 McCausland, executed a “Last Will and Testament” naming Fluharty as executor and bequeating the residue of his estate to a Trust, established in 2002. Months later, McCausland was physically incapacitated and living in a nursing care facility. It is alleged that McCausland dictated the terms of a new will to his nephew, Brown. McCausland did not sign or mark the typewritten will, and no one signed or marked it on his behalf. Two of McCausland’s health care providers in the nursing home signed the will and subsequently attempted to attest the document by signing affidavits averring that they “did witness [McCausland] stating that the new last will and testament contained his final desires.” In 2010, McCausland died and the original will was probated and recorded. More than a year later, the petitioners sought to have the original will revoked and the second will admitted to probate. The trial court held that, under W. Va. Code § 41-1-3, the second document is not a valid will. The West Virginia Supreme Court affirmed. A testator’s failure to sign his non-holographic will, or to request that it be signed on his behalf, renders the will void under these circumstances. View "Brown. v. Fluharty" on Justia Law

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Decedent died intestate as a result of a motor vehicle accident. Petitioner, the former spouse of Decedent, sought a share in the settlement proceeds from a wrongful death action based on her monthly receipt of payments from Decedent for a child support arrearage. The circuit court ruled that Petitioner was not entitled to a portion of the subject settlement funds because Petitioner could not demonstrate she was financially dependent on Decedent at the time of trial. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in ruling that Petitioner was not entitled to a share of the wrongful death settlement proceeds, as Petitioner's receipt of monthly arrearage payments was not sufficient to demonstrate the statutory requirement of financial dependence. View "Ellis v. Swisher" on Justia Law

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The circuit court found Frieda, Cordelia's elderly mother, to be a protected person. After determining that Cordelia was exploiting Frieda, neglecting her needs, and mishandling her finances, the court directed Cordelia to turn over to Frieda's conservator a full accounting of what she had done with Frieda's assets. Cordelia failed to comply with the order. The mental hygiene commissioner subsequently found Cordelia to be in contempt for failing to account for the disposition of assets belonging to her mother. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the circuit court's finding that Cordelia was in contempt; (2) affirmed that portion of the $50 per diem contempt sanction that applied prospectively from the actual date of the entry of the order of contempt; but (3) reversed that portion of the sanction that was retroactive, and reversed the sanction insofar as it purported to be for "compensation or damages." View "In re Frieda Q." on Justia Law

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Decedent executed a will in which all of his possessions to his wife. Decedent and his wife (Ex-Wife) divorced a few months later. One year later, Decedent died. Ex-Wife later sold the real property devised to her in Decedent's will to Petitioners. Thereafter, Decedent's mother (Respondent) filed an objection to final settlement, contending that Decedent's divorce from Ex-Wife after the execution of his will and prior to his death automatically revoked any disposition to Ex-Wife. The county commission ordered that Decedent's estate should pass to his heirs at law as if he had no will and found that Respondent was the sole heir to Decedent's estate. Petitioners subsequently filed a petition to quiet title to real estate and claim for unjust enrichment against Decedent's estate. The circuit court granted partial summary judgment for Respondent, concluding that Ex-Wife did not possess title to convey to Petitioners and that title to the subject real property should be quieted in Respondent's favor. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Respondent was not time-barred from claiming title to the subject property; and (2) the circuit court did not err in granting partial summary judgment in favor of Respondent. View "Johnson v. Kirby" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, the grandchildren of Larry Hose, filed the instant action against Anthony Hose, individually and as administrator of the estate of Larry Hose, alleging that Plaintiffs were sexually and physically abused by Larry Hose, and that the estate of Larry Hose was closed through fraudulent conduct without an accounting for the claim Plaintiffs had against the estate. After the complaint was filed, three other individuals were added as defendants. The circuit court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs on the issue of liability. The circuit court then certified to the Supreme Court the questions asking the Court to determine whether an affidavit was sufficient to give notice of a claim against the estate of Larry Hose and whether the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction over the complaint filed in this case. The Court found that the affidavit was sufficient in giving notice of a claim against the estate and that the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction over the complaint. View "Hose v. Estate of Hose" on Justia Law

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In this matter the Supreme Court considered whether a decedent's will that directed "all my just debts be paid as soon as conveniently possible after the date of my death" obligated the decedent's estate to pay the mortgage on two parcels of real property devised to Respondents. The circuit court determined that the "just debts" clause required the decedent's estate to pay the mortgage on the two properties and deliver an unencumbered interest in the two properties to Respondents. Petitioner, the executrix of the will, appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the doctrine of exoneration was applicable to this case, and under the doctrine, Respondents were entitled to receive an unencumbered interest in the two devised properties. View "Estate of Fussell v. Fortney " on Justia Law