Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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Barry Ackerley died in 2011. In 2008 and 2010, Ackerley made substantial gifts of money. On these inter vivos gifts, Ackerley paid the required federal gift taxes, which amounted to over $5.5 million. Upon his death, Ackerley was required under the federal estate tax code to include the value of the gift taxes paid in his federal taxable estate because he died within three years of making the gifts. Ackerley's estate thus included the gift taxes in its federal estate tax return. But when Ackerley's estate filed his Washington estate tax return, it did not include the $5.5 million in federal gift taxes paid as part of the Washington taxable estate. The Department of Revenue issued a notice of assessment, notifying Ackerley's estate that it owed additional Washington estate taxes on the amount of federal gift taxes paid. The Estate and Transfer Tax Act, chapter 83.100 RCW, made clear that calculating a Washington taxable estate begins with the federal taxable estate and that the Washington definition of "transfer" is the same as the federal definition. Under federal estate tax law, the gift tax paid is included in the taxable estate under the "gross-up rule" and, as such, is transferred upon death as part of the entire estate. Following the legislature's clear mandate, the Washington Supreme Court must also find that the gift tax paid is part of the Washington taxable estate and transferred upon death as part of the entire estate. Thus, the DOR properly included the gift tax paid in its assessment of Ackerley's estate. View "Estate of Ackerley v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Virgil Becker, a retired doctor, was killed in a plane crash. His estate claimed that a faulty carburetor caused the crash. Forward Technology Industries Inc. (FTI) built a component for that carburetor. The Estate brought numerous claims against FTI, including a state product liability claim implicating a faulty carburetor component. FTI moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 preempted state law. The federal district court for the Third Circuit recently found that federal aviation regulations do not preempt the state product liability of an aviation systems manufacturer because they were “not so pervasive as to indicate congressional intent to preempt state law.” The Washington Supreme Court followed the Third Circuit and found that the Federal Aviation Act did not preempt state law, reversed the Court of Appeals which held to the contrary, and remanded this case back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Estate of Becker v. Forward Tech. Indus., Inc." on Justia Law

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Ray Sandberg served in the United States Navy during World War II. Afterward, he worked for decades in dockyards and lumberyards. Throughout his work life, he had been exposed to asbestos. He contracted lymphoma, pleural disease and asbestosis relating to asbestos exposure. In 1999, he sued nearly 40 defendants who had some part in exposing him to asbestos. Most defendants settled; of the one that did not, Sandberg obtained a $1.5 million judgment. At age 84, Sandberg died. His daughter Judy Deggs, as personal representative of Sandberg's estate, sued additional companies that had not been named in her father's original lawsuit. The record of this case does not explain why the additional companies were not named in the 199 suit. The defendants here moved to dismiss this suit as time barred. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. On appeal, Deggs argued that the wrongful death claim she brought was a distinct statutory claim and that her injuries were not the same injuries her father suffered and sued for in 1999: her injuries were due to the loss of her father, which did not occur until he died. The Supreme Court affirmed dismissal, finding that "[a] wrongful death 'action accrues at the time of death' so long as there is 'a subsisting cause of action in the deceased' at the time of death subject to exceptions no present here." The Court found insufficient cause to abandon that well-established precedent in this case. View "Deggs v. Asbestos Corp." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was a will contest and whether the will proponents presented sufficient evidence to rebut a presumption of undue influence. The trial court invalidated the will, finding that it was the product of undue influence. The trial court's factual findings were not challenged on appeal, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial, holding that the trial court failed to make findings of direct evidence to support its conclusion of undue influence, relying solely on the presumption of undue influence to invalidate the will. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the proper inquiry here was whether the trial court's unchallenged findings of fact supported its conclusions of law. The Court of Appeals erred by reweighing evidence that sufficiently supported the trial court's conclusions. The Court reinstated the trial court's judgment invalidating the will as a product of undue influence. View "In re Estate of Barnes" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Virginia Jepsen executed her last will and testament on July 1, 2009, and died on November 16, 2011. On December 20, 2011, the superior court admitted Jepsen's will to probate, declared the estate was solvent, and appointed Julie Miles as personal representative (PR) with nonintervention powers. On March 22, 2012, Jepsen's adult son, Mack, filed a petition contesting the validity of Jepsen's will. Mack's attorney e-mailed the petition to the PR's attorney the same day it was filed. There was nothing in the record showing that the PR affirmatively agreed to accept e-mail service on her attorney in lieu of personal service on the PR. On April27, 2012, the PR filed a response to Mack's petition, denying its substantive allegations but not raising any affirmative defenses. On October 31, 2012, the PR filed a motion to dismiss Mack's petition because it was not personally served within 90 days of filing. The trial court initially granted the PR' s motion but reversed itself on reconsideration, holding that service under RCW 11.24.010 went solely to personal jurisdiction and that any objection on that basis was waived. The PR appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished decision. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the will contest petition was never personally served on the personal representative, so the action was therefore never fully commenced and should have been dismissed. View "In re Estate of Jepsen" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the legislature amended the Estate and Transfer Tax Act in response to the Washington Supreme Court's decision in "In re Estate of Bracken," 290 P.3d 99 (2012), in which the Court narrowly construed the term "transfer." The amendment allowed the Department of Revenue (DOR) to tax qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) as part of a surviving spouse's estate. A QTIP trust is created by a deceased spouse and gives the surviving spouse a life interest in the income or use of trust property. In consolidated cases, the estates of Hambleton and Macbride challenged the amendment on a variety of grounds. The Supreme Court rejected the Estates' challenges, reversed summary judgment in In re Estate of Hambleton, and affirmed the summary judgment in In re Estate of Macbride. View "In re Estate of Hambleton" on Justia Law

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When Rachel Anderson (formerly Rachel Rodgers) was six years old, a horse kicked her in the face and she sustained serious injuries. Her many fractures and lacerations required multiple surgeries and she suffered severe cognitive and emotional trauma. Rachel's family hired respondent Richard McMenamin to pursue a personal injury action against the owner of the horse. In 1997, the Superior Court approved a personal injury settlement of $3 00,000.00 and the creation of the "Rachel Marguerite Rodgers Trust." McMenamin hired respondent attorney William Dussault to draw up the trust agreement. After attorney's fees and other costs, a net amount of$187,160.66 entered the trust. Respondent Wells Fargo Bank, NA served as trustee. The agreement also created a trust advisory committee (T AC) composed of petitioner's mother, Andrea Davey (formerly Andrea Rodgers) and McMenamin, were tasked with making distribution decisions for Rachel's benefit. Rachel later took issue with how her trust has been administered, alleging breach of fiduciary duties and legal malpractice. Rachel questioned several purchases with trust money that she said were never used for her benefit - a vehicle, computers and software and a house (which was purchased in the name of her mother's boyfriend). Furthermore, Rachel questioned the trustee and legal fees that were charged to the trust as excessive and at above market rates. Rachel sued her mother, McMenamin, Wells Fargo, and Dussault, alleging breach of fiduciary duties and malpractice. Motions for summary judgment were filed by Dussault, McMenamin, and Wells Fargo. The court granted their motion. The superior court then dismissed all of Rachel's remaining claims, including claims against her mother. Rachel appealed as to McMenamin, Dussault, and Wells Fargo, but chose not to appeal her claim against Andrea. The appellate court affirmed. At issue for the Supreme Court's review was whether the superior court's approval of annual accountings of Rachel's trust under the Trustees Accounting Act (TAA), chapter 11.106 RCW, barred this suit, which was timely under the Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act (TEDRA), chapter 11.96A RCW. The Supreme Court found that because Rachel was not represented by a guardian ad litem when the court approved the trust's annual accountings, she did not have notice of these proceedings and accordingly could bring a breach of trust action under TEDRA. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals, vacated its award of attorney's fees, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Anderson v. Dussault" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The estate of Etsuko Futagi Toland appealed a Court of Appeals decision upholding summary judgment that denied registration of a Japanese divorce decree awarding Etsuko Toland a monetary award against her former husband, Peter Paul Toland. The question to the Washington Supreme Court was whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying recognition of the divorce decree under comity principles because Paul was not given notice of a Japanese guardianship proceeding involving the couple's daughter. The Washington Court reversed: the 2008 guardianship had no effect on Paul's legal obligations under the 2006 divorce decree. The divorce decree was valid, and whether it should have been recognized as a matter of comity did not depend on whether Paul had notice of the guardianship proceeding. The Washington Court held that the trial court abused its discretion, and remanded this case back to the trial court for registration of the divorce decree. View "In re Estate of Toland" on Justia Law

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When Dr. Virgil Becker, Jr. died, his will left everything to his youngest daughter. His three older daughters contested the will, and the issue before the Supreme Court on appeal was whether his surviving spouse, Dr. Nancy Becker, had standing to participate in that will contest. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that because Nancy had a direct, immediate, and legally ascertainable interest in the decedent's estate if the will was declared invalid, she would have standing in the will contest. View "In re Estate of Becker" on Justia Law

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Dr. James Haviland was a medical doctor who practiced in the Seattle area. Several years after the death of his first wife, the 85-year-old Dr. Haviland met 35-year-old Mary Burden who worked at the hospital where he was a patient. Following his discharge, the two began dating, and the doctor agreed to pay towards Ms. Burden's education and gave her an additional "nest egg." The couple married in 1997. The day before the wedding, Dr. Haviland changed his will to include his new wife, and revised it several more times during the marriage. The 2006 amendment allowed the doctor's total probate estate to pass to his new wife, excepting several special bequests. Ms. Haviland amended the doctor's living trust, transferred securities for her own benefit, and made multiple large cash gifts to her family members. Large sums of money were also transferred from the couple's joint checking account to Ms. Haviland's separate account. After Dr. Haviland died, his children contested the multiple amendments to his will. The trial court ultimately found that the estate was "so depleted by Mary's transfer of funds that, after distribution of specific bequests, the total value of the estate is a negative." The court invalidated the will after finding that the 2006 amendment was the product of undue influence. During the pendency of the contest, the Washington legislature amended the slayer statutes to disinherit those who financially abuse vulnerable adults. In light of the amendments, the administrator of the doctor's estate requested the trial court to determine whether Ms. Haviland should have been disinherited based on her conduct with respect to Dr. Haviland and as found by the trial court. The court determined that the abuser statutes did not apply to deny Ms. Haviland benefits from the estate since the statutes were triggered by financial abuse. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that the petition filed during probate to adjudicate whether an individual is an abuser was the triggering event for the statutes to apply, and as such, acted prospectively applied to the Haviland estate. Ms. Haviland appealed the appellate court's holding. After its review, the Supreme Court affirmed, concurring that the abuser statutes act prospectively, and that the filing of the abuser petition during probate is the trigger. View "In re Estate of Haviland" on Justia Law