Justia Missouri Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Son's action alleging that Daughter engaged in an abuse of process by filing a suit to invalidate portions of the Phyllis Schlafly Revocable Trust, holding that the petition contained sufficient allegations regarding the elements of an abuse of process claim.Son and Daughter were the children of Phyllis Schlafly (Mother). After Mother died, Daughter filed a third lawsuit seeking to void amendments to the trust due to incapacity and undue influence (the Trust Suit). Daughter voluntarily dismissed the Trust Suit with prejudice three years later. Thereafter, Son filed an amended petition alleging abuse of process. The circuit court dismissed the petition for failure to state a claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court's dismissal was erroneous because Son alleged sufficient facts to support the elements of an abuse of process claim. View "Schlafly v. Cori" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiff's wrongful death lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad Company under the Federal Employes' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51, et seq. (FELA), holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in overruling Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend her petition out of time.Plaintiff brought this action in her purported capacity as the personal representative of the estate of her husband (Decedent). In its motion to dismiss, Union Pacific argued that, prior to filing suit, Plaintiff was not appointed the personal representative of Decedent's estate, as required under 45 U.S.C 51. The circuit court granted Plaintiff thirty days to obtain the appointment and amend her petition. Plaintiff, however, was not appointed the personal representative of Decedent's estate until after the deadline. The circuit court dismissed the action. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to further extend the deadline for Plaintiff to file an amended petition out of time. View "Holmes v. Holmes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court finding that the petition filed by a trust's sole beneficiary seeking removal of the trustee violated the trust's no-contest clause and in entering summary judgment in the trustee's favor on its declaratory judgment claim, holding that the no-contest clause in the trust document was enforceable.After the beneficiary in this case stopped receiving distributions from the trust, he filed suit against the trustee for removal of the trustee and breach of trust. The trustee filed a counterclaim seeking a judgment declaring that the petition violated the trust instrument's no-contest clause and thus canceled and revoked all trust provisions in the beneficiary's favor. The circuit court sustained the motion for summary judgment on the trustee's counterclaim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the beneficiary did not seek relief form the no-contest clause pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. 456.4-420 and instead filed a petition asserting the claims the settlor unambiguously stated would forfeit the beneficiary's interest in the trust, the circuit court properly found the petition violated the trust's no-contest clause. View "Knopik v. Shelby Investments, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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The Court of Appeals made permanent a preliminary order in mandamus it issued in this action filed by the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri (Curators) seeking to require the circuit court to transfer venue in the underlying action to Boone County, holding that there was no venue in the underlying action in St. Louis County.This writ arose from a declaratory action concerning a Decedent's last will and testament. Hillsdale College filed suit in St. Louis County challenging Curators' administration of the funds of Decedent's trust. Curators filed this petition seeking to transfer the matter to the probate division of the circuit court in Boone County, Curators' usual place of business records where pertaining to the trust were kept. The Court of Appeals granted the writ, holding that because the trust could be registered in Boone County, Boone County was the proper venue for this case. View "State ex rel. Board of Curators of University of Missouri v. Honorable Joseph L. Green" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the probate division denying the application of Ruth Mickels (“Mickels”) to be appointed as personal representative of the estate of her late husband, Joseph Mickels, Sr. The probate denied the application as untimely under Mo. Rev. Stat. 473.020, which requires all applications to be filed within one year of the decedent’s death. By the time the application was filed, the decedent had been deceased for seven years. On appeal, Mickels argued that Mickels v. Danrad, 486 S.W.3d 327 (Mo. banc 2016) (“Mickels I”), announced a new cause of action previously unavailable in Missouri and that equity required the allowance of an out-of-time appointment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Mickels’s application for appointment as personal representative was time-barred by section 473.020 because (1) Mickels I did not announce a new cause of action; and (2) where the court was obligated to follow the clearly articulated statute of limitations, it could not exercise an equitable powers to provide relief in this case. View "In re Estate of Joseph B. Mickels" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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Eric Williams, the second cousin of Betty Reynolds, sued attorney Kenneth Nelson and his wife, Sandra Nelson. Kenneth had been retained by Reynolds to advise her in achieving her estate planning objectives. Williams claimed that the Nelsons violated their fiduciary duties to Reynolds by unduly influencing Reynolds to give Sandra joint ownership of - or to designate Sandra as the “payable on death” (POD) beneficiary on - most of Reynolds’ assets. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Nelsons, concluding that Williams lacked standing to bring these claims because he had no right to any of the assets at issue and therefore suffered no harm from the Nelsons’ alleged undue influence over Reynolds . The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Williams’ claims with respect to claims relating to certain accounts; but (2) vacated the dismissal of Williams’ claims pertaining to the accounts for which there was no valid joint ownership or POD designation in effect at the time the Nelsons allegedly unduly influenced Reynolds to give Sandra her interests, holding that Williams had standing to challenge Sandra’s ownership of, and the Nelsons’ conduct, concerning these accounts. View "Williams v. Hubbard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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This dispute surrounded the inter vivos trust of K.R. Conklin. Conklin’s children (the “Children”) became trustees of Conklin’s trust upon his death in 2009. Conklin’s stepchildren (the “Stepchildren”) sued the Children in their individual capacities, seeking, among other things, a declaration that they were beneficiaries of the trust. The circuit court entered judgment for the Children on all counts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in holding (1) the Stepchildren were not beneficiaries under the trust; (2) Conklin did not amend the trust with a letter he wrote; and (3) the Children did not violate the trust’s no-contest provision by resisting the Stepchildren’s claims and subsequent lawsuit. View "Rouner v. Wise" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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In this family dispute over the inheritance of money and property, the trial court dismissed all of Plaintiff Arthur Fry’s claims and some of the claims of Plaintiffs Mary Ellison, Susan Sleeper, and David Fry. The jury returned verdicts in favor of Mary, David and Susan on three of their claims that J.D. Fry committed frauds and other wrongs that resulted in J.D.’s pecuniary gain. J.D. Fry died after suit was filed but before trial, and the trial court substituted J.D.’s wife, Linda Fry, in her capacity as trustee of J.D.’s trust. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment on the jury verdicts for Mary, Susan and David, holding that Susan and David’s claims were time-barred by the statute of limitations and that Mary’s claims were barred because the trial court erred in substituting Linda upon J.D.’s death. The Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ other claims. View "Ellison v. Fry" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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In 2002, three months after she married her fourth husband, Patricia Watson created a trust that left substantially all of her property to her half siblings. The trust expressly stated that Watson’s husband, Arnold Smith, would not receive any part of the trust estate. Thereafter, Watson’s mental health began deteriorating, and in 2007, Watson began making changes to her trust. Watson signed two trust amendments, signed changes to several of her bank and retirement accounts, and signed documents retitling several of her accounts and vehicles. The effect of the changes was that almost all of Watson’s personal property passed to Smith when Watson died. After Watson’s death, the half siblings filed this action seeking to set aside the trust amendments, beneficiary designations, and property transfers. The circuit court ruled that the changes to the estate plan were void due to a lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that substantial evidence supported the circuit court’s judgment that Watson lacked testamentary capacity to make the changes to her estate plan and that the judgment was not against the weight of the evidence. View "Ivie v. Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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In 2011, Lonnie Brockmire (“Decedent”) died intestate. Decedent was survived by his only biological child, Sherri, and Sherri’s daughter, Bella. Sherri was adopted by her stepfather after she became an adult and prior to Decedent’s death. After Decedent died, Sherri sought a partial distribution of Decedent’s estate to Bella. The circuit court granted the distribution. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Bella had no right to inherit Decedent’s estate pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. 474.060.1 and 474.010(2) because (1) Sherri was not a “child” of Decedent at the time he died, and (2) even if she was, Sherri did not predecease Decedent. View "In re Brockmire" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates