Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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Delores Williams, the personal representative of the Estate of Edward Murry, and Matthew Whitaker, Jr., the personal representative of the Estate of Annie Mae Murry (PRs), brought a declaratory judgment action to determine whether a GEICO motor vehicle insurance policy issued to the Murrys provided $15,000 or $100,000 in liability proceeds for bodily injury for an accident in which both of the Murrys were killed. The circuit court concluded coverage was limited to the statutory minimum of $15,000 based on a family step-down provision in the policy that reduced coverage for bodily injury to family members from the stated policy coverage of $100,000 to the statutory minimum amount mandated by South Carolina law during the policy period. The PRs appealed, contending the step-down provision was ambiguous and/or violative of public policy. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Court agreed with the circuit court that GEICO's policy is not ambiguous, but concluded the family step-down provision, which reduced the coverage under the liability policy from the stated policy amount to the statutory minimum, was violative of public policy and was, therefore, void. "The provision not only conflicte[d] with the mandates set forth in section 38-77-142, but its enforcement would be injurious to the public welfare." View "Williams v. GEICO" on Justia Law

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Appellants Heritage Healthcare of Ridgeway, LLC, Uni-Health Post-Acute Care - Tanglewood, LLC (Tanglewood), and UHS-Pruitt Corporation (collectively, Appellants) ask this Court to reverse the circuit court's denial of their motion to compel arbitration in this wrongful death and survival action involving Appellants' allegedly negligent nursing home care. Tanglewood is a skilled nursing facility located in Ridgeway, owned and controlled by Appellants. In January 2007, Tanglewood and Respondent Darlene Dean entered into a nursing home residency agreement in which Tanglewood assumed responsibility for the care of Respondent's mother, Louise Porter (the patient). The same day, Respondent signed a separate, voluntary arbitration agreement. The patient did not sign either the residency agreement or the Agreement on her own behalf, although she was competent at the time of her admission to Tanglewood. Moreover, Respondent did not have a health care power of attorney empowering her to sign on the patient's behalf. In 2009, the patient fell three separate times within a ten day period, fracturing her hip in the third fall. Over the next two months, the patient underwent two hip surgeries; however, due to complications following the surgeries, the patient died on September 30, 2009. In late 2011, Respondent (acting in her capacity as personal representative of her mother's estate) filed a Notice of Intent (NOI) to file a medical malpractice suit against Appellants, as well as an expert affidavit in support of her NOI. Respondent also alleged claims for survival and wrongful death. In lieu of filing an answer to the complaint, Appellants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and (6), SCRCP, or, in the alternative, a motion to compel arbitration and stay the litigation. Relying on "Grant v. Magnolia Manor-Greenwood, Inc.," (678 S.E.2d 435 (2009)), the circuit court invalidated the Agreement in its entirety and refused to compel arbitration between the parties. Appellants filed a motion to reconsider, which the circuit court denied. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that Respondent's argument that Appellants' waived their right to enforce the Agreement was without merit. On remand, the Supreme Court mandated that the circuit court consider her remaining arguments (concerning Respondent's authority to sign the Agreement and whether there was a meeting of the minds between the parties) prior to deciding whether to compel arbitration between the parties. View "Dean v. Heritage Healthcare" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals in "Rider v. Estate of Rider," (713 S.E.2d 643 (Ct. App. 2011)), which applied the common law of agency to hold that certain financial assets were part of the decedent's probate estate. The decedent had directed his bank to transfer specified assets in his investment account to a new account for his spouse, but died before all of the assets were credited to the account. The issue in this case was one of first impression for the Supreme Court, and after review of the facts, the Court reversed the appellate court: "[o]nce Husband issued the entitlement order and was the appropriate person, Wachovia was obligated by the UCC and the parties' Account Agreement to obey his directive. Wachovia had set up a new investment account in Wife's name and commenced the transfer of securities within a few days of Husband's request, so at that point, Wife already had a recognizable interest, even though Wachovia had not posted all of the securities to her account. The Court of Appeals, in focusing solely on the date of the 'book entry,' which it took to mean the date the securities were credited or posted to Wife's account, seemed to view this as the exclusive means for obtaining an interest in the securities." View "In the Matter of Charles Rider" on Justia Law

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Brian Hover, son of decedent Margaret Dever Hover Gurnham and the Personal Representative of her Estate, appealed the circuit court's order confirming the probate court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Beach First National Bank to enforce a deficiency judgment against the Estate. Hover argued the Bank's claim (which arose following a foreclosure action) was untimely and, thus, barred by section 62-3-8031 of the South Carolina Probate Code (Probate Code). Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed that the Bank's claim was barred because it was presented outside the time limits of the applicable statute. View "Beach First National Bank v. Estate of Gurnham" on Justia Law

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Kenneth Poch and Kevin Key were temporary workers contracted through Personnel Resources of Georgia, Inc. and Carolina Staffing, Inc. d/b/a Job Place of Conway, to work for Bayshore Concrete Products/South Carolina, Inc. to clean up a concrete casting worksite and dismantle equipment used to produce concrete forms. As a result of a tragic, work-related accident, Poch was killed and Key was injured. Poch's estate and Key received workers' compensation benefits through Job Place. Subsequently, Key and his wife and the estate of Poch filed suit against Bayshore SC and its parent company, Bayshore Concrete Products Corporation. The circuit court granted the company's motion to dismiss the actions on the ground that workers' compensation was Petitioners' exclusive remedy and, therefore, the company was immune from liability in a tort action. The Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's order. Though the Supreme Court agreed with the result reached by the Court of Appeals, it found the court incorrectly analyzed Petitioners' arguments. Accordingly, the Court affirmed as modified. View "Poch v. Bayshore Concrete" on Justia Law

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This action involved competing claims to the retirement benefits of the late Thomas Sullivan, a former National Football League (NFL) running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. Thomas married Lavona Hill in Maryland in 1979. They separated in 1983, but never divorced. In 1986, Thomas purported to marry Barbara Sullivan in South Carolina. Sullivan was unaware of Thomas' prior marriage to Hill. In 1991, Thomas submitted pension forms to the NFL indicating Sullivan was his current spouse. Thomas died in 2002. Thereafter, Sullivan filed a claim with the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan (the Plan), which provided benefits to a player's surviving spouse, defining the term as "a [p]layer's lawful spouse, as recognized under applicable state law." In November 2002, the Plan began paying Sullivan monthly benefits. Four years later, Hill contacted the Plan to request benefits. Following an investigation, the Plan suspended payments to Sullivan pending a court order identifying Thomas's surviving spouse. After Hill failed to obtain that order, the Plan resumed payments to Sullivan. In 2009, Hill filed this action against the Plan in Pennsylvania state court, claiming entitlement to Thomas's retirement benefits. The Plan promptly removed the case to federal district court and filed an interpleader counterclaim, joining Sullivan as a party. The United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question to the South Carolina Supreme Court over whether South Carolina law recognized the "putative spouse" or "putative marriage" doctrine. The Supreme Court answered the certified question "no." View "Hill v. Bell" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Decedent Robert L. Gilmore executed his Will, which was filed with the probate court upon his death in August of 2010. He bequeathed his entire estate to Respondents Francis D. Daniels and Patricia C. Daniels, who are unrelated to Decedent. Appellant Jennifer Turner was born on November 8, 1972. It is undisputed that Appellant and Decedent did not know each other, but she later learned that Decedent was her biological father. Appellant filed a claim of inheritance with the probate court based on section 62-2-302(b) of the South Carolina Code. The issue before the Supreme Court centered on whether Appellant qualified as a pretermitted child. Because the presumed facts of this case fell outside the clear language of section 62-2-302(b), the Supreme Court concluded that the probate court, and the circuit court on review, correctly dismissed Appellant's claim. View "Turner v. Daniels" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted Dana Medlock's petition for certiorari to determine whether a non-attorney who files a claim in probate court for a business entity engages in the unauthorized practice of law. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that a non-attorney may present claims against an estate on behalf of a business without unduly engaging in the practice of law. View "Medlock v. University Health Services" on Justia Law

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Appellants were initially appointed by the circuit court in March 2007 as Special Administrators with limited duties to oversee the handling of entertainer James Brown's estate after petitions were filed by some of Brown's family members seeking the removal of Respondents Albert Dallas, Alfred Bradley, and David Cannon as personal representatives. The court made the selection after the parties could not agree on who should be appointed. Ultimately, the three original fiduciaries either resigned or were removed from their positions as personal representatives and trustees. Appellants Robert Buchanan, Jr. and Adele Pope, formerly personal representatives for The Estate of James Brown and trustees of The James Brown 2000 Irrevocable Trust, appealed circuit court orders that: (1) approved a settlement agreement pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. 62-3-1102 (2009) of pending litigation concerning the estate; and (2) removed Appellants from their fiduciary positions and appointed Russell Bauknight as personal representative and trustee. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's removal of Appellants from their fiduciary positions, and, in light of the Court's decision invalidating the circuit court's approval of the compromise agreement, it likewise voided the appointment of Bauknight. The Court directed the circuit court, upon proper application, to appoint fiduciaries to oversee matters in accordance with the provisions of Brown's estate and trust documents, and to evaluate the propriety of all fees related to this case. View "Wilson v. Dallas" on Justia Law

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Appellants Robert Buchanan, Jr. and Adele Pope, formerly personal representatives for The Estate of James Brown and trustees of The James Brown 2000 Irrevocable Trust, appealed circuit court orders that: (1) approved a settlement agreement of pending litigation concerning the estate; and (2) removed Appellants from their fiduciary positions and appointed Russell L. Bauknight as personal representative and trustee. At the heart of this case is the estate of singer-entertainer James Brown, estimated to be worth between $5 million to $100 million. Brown devised all of his personal and household effects to six named adult children, with the remainder left to the James Brown 2000 Irrevocable Trust. Albert Dallas, Alfred Bradley, and David Cannon were named as the co-personal representatives of Brown's estate and as the co-trustees of the 2000 Irrevocable Trust. Brown's will and trust each contained a no-contest clause, which provided that any beneficiary who challenged the will or the 2000 Irrevocable Trust "shall forfeit his or her entire interest thereunder." Brown expressly disavowed any other potential beneficiaries. In 2001, Brown and Tommie Rae Hynie executed a prenuptial agreement whereby she waived any right to Brown's property or the receipt of alimony, including any claim for an interest in his estate. In 2004, Brown sought to annul the marriage, finding Tommie Rae was married to someone else. The couple had one child born prior to the prenuptial agreement or marriage. The parties dismissed their respective suits in a consent order late 2004, whereby Tommie Rae waived any claim of common law marriage. In 2007, five of the six adult children Brown named in his will and Tommie Rae, brought actions to set aside Brown's will and the 2000 Irrevocable Trust based on undue influence. They alleged Brown's estate should pass by the laws of intestate succession. Tommie Rae claimed that she was entitled to an elective share or an omitted spouse's share of Brown's estate and that her son, James B. (via a guardian ad litem), was entitled to a share of the estate as an omitted child. The probate court transferred these claims to the circuit court. Ultimately, the three original fiduciaries either resigned or were removed from their positions as personal representatives and trustees. A (New) Charitable Trust, similar to the existing Charitable Trust formed from the 2000 Irrevocable Trust, was to be created by the Attorney General (AG) with the advice and counsel of the parties. An Advisory Board was to be established, whose members would "serve at the pleasure of and on such terms as the [AG] shall decide." The number of members on the Advisory Board was to be determined by the AG, but would include a member selected by Tommie Rae and one selected by each of Brown's adult children, and the roles of all members of the board were expressly stated to "be solely advisory." A trust similar to the Brown Family Education Trust was to be established for the education of the grandchildren and their issue, to be funded with $2 million. The circuit court approved the compromise agreement and directed Appellants to execute the agreement. At the request of the settling parties, the circuit court appointed Bauknight to have full authority as the personal representative for Brown's estate and as trustee, and Appellants were removed from those positions. Appellants appealed these rulings as well as additional, related orders, and the Court of Appeals consolidated the appeals. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's removal of Appellants from their fiduciary positions, but, in light of its decision invalidating the circuit court's approval of the compromise agreement, the Court directed the circuit court to appoint new, neutral fiduciaries to oversee these matters. View "In re: The Estate of James Brown" on Justia Law