Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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Upon obtaining information that Steven Bleck was suicidal and possibly armed, officers with the Alamosa Police Department, including petitioner Jeffrey Martinez, entered Bleck’s hotel room. Bleck did not respond to the officers’ command to show his hands and lie down on the floor. Martinez approached him, and, without holstering his weapon, attempted to subdue him. In the process, the firearm discharged, injuring Bleck. As relevant here, Bleck brought suit against Martinez in federal court, alleging excessive force and a state law battery claim. The federal court granted summary judgment and dismissed Bleck’s federal claim, concluding that there was no evidence that the shooting was intentional. After the federal district court declined to assert supplemental jurisdiction over the state law battery claim, Bleck refiled the claim in state district court. Martinez then moved to dismiss the state law claims against him, arguing he was immune from suit and that his actions were not "willful and wanton." The trial court denied the motion, reasoning that Martinez should have known the situation would have been dangerous by not holstering his weapon prior to subduing Bleck. The court of appeals determined it lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal, and did not consider Martinez' claim that the trial court applied the wrong "willful and wanton" standard before deciding his motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court agreed that the trial court applied the wrong standard, and that the court of appeals erred in not hearing the appeal. Furthermore, the Supreme Court found the trial court erred by not determining all issues relating to Martinez' immunity claim. View "Martinez v. Estate of Bleck" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether a property titled in the name of a judgment debtor's co-settled revocable trust was subject to a judgment lien against the debtor. Petitioners were co-settlors and co-trustees of a revocable trust that held title to some Colorado property. Respondent obtained two judgments, and filed a quiet title action for a decree of foreclosure. Petitioner moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that respondent's complaint was barred by the statute of limitations in 13-80-101(1)(k), C.R.S. (2015). The trial court denied the motion. After granting certiorari review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that as a settlor of a revocable trust, petitioner held an ownership interest in the trust's assets. Respondent could properly seek to enforce its judgment against petitioner, and the action was not barred by the statute of limitations. View "Pandy v. Independent Bank" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether dissatisfied beneficiaries of a testator’s estate have standing to bring legal malpractice or claims against the attorney who drafted the testator’s estate planning documents. Specifically, petitioners Merridy Kay Baker and Sue Carol Kunda sought to sue respondents Wood, Ris & Hames, Professional Corporation, Donald L. Cook, and Barbara Brundin (collectively, the Attorneys), who were the attorneys retained by their father, Floyd Baker, to prepare his estate plan. Petitioners asked the Supreme Court to abandon what was known as the "strict privity rule," which precluded attorney liability to non-clients absent fraud, malicious conduct or negligent misrepresentation. The advocated instead for a "California Test" and for an extension of the third-party beneficiary theory of contract liability (also known as the Florida-Iowa Rule), both of which petitioners asserted would allow them as the alleged beneficiaries of the estate, to sue the Attorneys for legal malpractice and breach of contract. After review of this case, the Supreme Court declined to abandon the strict privity rule, and rejected petitioners' contention that the court of appeals erred in affirming dismissal of their purported fraudulent concealment claims. View "Baker v. Wood, Ris & Hames" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether, and to what extent, the Colorado Probate Code displaced a probate court's authority to award an equitable adjustment supplementing a spouse's elective share of the decedent's estate. By the date of final distribution of the estate at the heart of this case, it had grown in value from $73 million to more than $250 million. Concluding that it would be unfair for the elective share to be "frozen in time" while extensive litigation concerning its computation eroded its value in relation to the appreciating estate, the probate court exercised its equitable authority by supplementing the elective share. The probate court determined that the spouse was entitled to an elective share of approximately $26 million, plus an equitable award of approximately $24.5 million, based on a17.46% rate of return on the undistributed balance of her elective share, calculated to reflect appreciation and income to the entire estate. The court of appeals reversed the trial court's decision, ruling that the Probate Code displaced a court's equitable powers in the elective-share arena as a matter of law. The court of appeals ordered the spouse to repay the entire $24.5 million equitable award, plus restitutionary interest from the date of distribution. Reading the elective-share statutes together with the probate court's equitable authority, the Supreme Court concluded that the Colorado Probate Code's plain language demonstrated that a particular statutory provision dealing with the spouse's elective share, section 15-11-202(1), C.R.S. (2014), fixed the value of the property comprising the augmented estate on the decedent's date of death. This specific provision controlled over the general equitable authority the probate court may exercise under section 15-10-103, C.R.S. (2014).Accordingly, the probate court erred by linking its equitable award to appreciation and income to the entire augmented estate. Nevertheless, section 15-10-103 expressly reserved the probate court's equitable authority to the extent that it was not displaced by a specific statutory provision. "On remand, the probate court has tools at its disposal to exercise equity consistent with the statutory elective-share framework." The Court set aside the court of appeals' judgment requiring the spouse to repay the entire $24.5 million equitable award with interest. The probate court's mandate on remand was to determine what equitable relief was available to the spouse under the specific facts of this case. View "Beren v. Beren" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether (and to what extent) the Colorado Probate Code displaced a court's authority to award an equitable adjustment supplementing a spouse's elective share of the decedent's estate. By the date of final distribution, the estate at issue here had grown in value from $73 million to more than $250 million. The probate court concluded that it would have been unfair for the elective share to be "frozen in time" while litigation concerning its computation eroded its value in relation to the appreciating estate. The Court exercised its equitable authority by supplementing the elective share, and awarded the surviving spouse $26 million plus an equitable award of approximately $24.5 million. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Probate Code displaced the probate court's authority with regard to the elective share, as a matter of law. Reading the elective-share statutes together with the probate court's equitable authority, the Supreme Court concluded that the Code's plain language demonstrated that 15-11-202(1) C.R.S. (2014), fixed the value of the property comprising the augmented estate on the decedent's date of death. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded the probate court erred in linking its equitable award to appreciation and income to the entire augmented estate. Nevertheless, 15-10-103 expressly reserved the probate court's equitable authority to the extent that it was not displaced by a specific statutory provision. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part the court of appeals' judgment, and remanded this case. The court of appeals judgment requiring the surviving spouse repay $24.4 million was set aside, and the probate court was mandated to determine on remand what equitable relief was available under the specific facts of this case. View "Beren v. Beren" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The two appeals consolidated for resolution in this case both arose from an attempt by John C. Harrison, acting as personal representative for the estate of Nolan G. Thorsteinson and trustee of The Margie (Dotts) M. Thorsteinson Trust, to avoid an order declaring abandoned a disputed 1.04 c.f.s. interest in the Mexican Ditch. Harrison appealed directly to the Supreme Court adverse rulings of the Water Court in the two cases. With regard to Harrison's Application for a Change of Water Right, the water court granted the Engineers' motion to dismiss at the close of Harrison's case, finding that he was required but failed, to establish the historic use of the right as to which he sought a change in the point of diversion. With regard to Harrison's protest to the inclusion of the interests he claimed in the Mexican Ditch on the Division Engineer's decennial abandonment list, the water court granted the Engineer's motion for abandonment, as a stipulated remedy for Harrison's failure to succeed in his change application. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that because Harrison neither proved historic use of the right for which he sought a change nor was excepted from the requirement that he do so as a precondition of changing its point of diversion; and because denying a change of water right for failing to prove the historic use of the right did not amount to an unconstitutional taking of property, the water court's dismissal of Harrison's application was affirmed. But because, Harrison did not stipulate to an order of abandonment as the consequence of failing to succeed in his change application, only as the consequence of failing to timely file an application reflecting historic use, the water court's order granting the Engineers' motion for abandonment was reversed. View "Thorsteinson v. Simpson" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Amanda Vinton, Esq. sought relief from orders of the probate court that permitted Respondent Sharon Virzi to amend her challenge to a trust administration by adding a claim of fraud against Vinton, the attorney for the trustee. Over Petitioner's objection, the probate court summarily granted Respondent's motion to amend, forcing Petitioner to withdraw as counsel for the trustee. The probate court subsequently summarily denied two motions by Petitioner to dismiss the claim against her and ordered her to pay Respondent's attorney fees for having to defend against a substantially frivolous and groundless motion. The Supreme Court issued a rule to show cause. Because Respondent's fraud claim was not plead with sufficient particularity to withstand a motion to dismiss, it was futile, and the probate court abused its discretion in permitting the joinder of her opponent's attorney. The Supreme Court found that whether or not Petitioner's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction over the separate fraud claim was meritorious, the record was inadequate to support an award of attorney fees. The rule was therefore made absolute, and the matter was remanded to the probate court with directions to dismiss Respondent's claim of fraud against Petitioner and to vacate its award of attorney fees. View "Vinton v. Virzi" on Justia Law