Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
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After decedent Charles Fulks died, his wife, petitioner-appellee Dorothy Fulks, filed the probate of his estate in the District Court of Nowata County, Oklahoma. An heir at law-appellant, the decedent's daughter, Tammy McPherson, objected to the probate in Nowata County. She argued that: (1) the decedent died in Osage County, and all of the decedent's real and personal property was located in Osage County; (2) pursuant to 58 O.S. 2011 section 5, the proper venue for the probate was solely in Osage County, Oklahoma; and (3) the case should have been transferred pursuant to the doctrine of intrastate forum non conveniens. The trial court determined that Nowata County was also a proper venue, and it denied the daughter's request to transfer the cause to Osage County. The daughter appealed, and after review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held venue was proper in Osage County. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Fulks" on Justia Law

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Dayna Foresee (Dayna) and Thomas Allen Foresee (Decedent) were married for thirty-nine years. The record was unclear as to precisely when the parties separated, but Dayna moved out of the parties' marital residence in Eufaula, Oklahoma and filed a divorce proceeding in Tulsa County in July 2019. Decedent had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). On December 31, 2019, he executed his Last Will and Testament, naming two of the parties' children, appellees Jeremy Foresee and Jacie Michelle Cook, to serve as co-personal representatives. Further, the will expressly excluded Dayna from taking anything from Decedent's estate. Decedent passed away from Lou Gehrig's disease on January 11, 2020. Two days later, Appellees filed a probate petition seeking appointment as special administrators of Decedent's estate. Appellees alleged the Decedent had "orally expressed wishes for disposition of his bodily remains." Dayna filed an objection contesting the decedent's will to probate, and sought a restraining order and injunction. She argued the will was invalid because the decedent was of unsound mind at the time of the will's drafting, thereby making any assignment of the right to control his body also invalid. Appellees claimed that as representatives of the Decedent's estate, duly appointed under the terms of his will, they were to be afforded statutory priority to control the disposition of the remains. The will vested the co-personal representatives with the power to pay debts associated with Decedent's "last illness, funeral, and burial;" however, nothing in the will explicitly entrusted them with control over decedent's remains. The trial court ruled the decedent's last will and testament sufficiently vested power over his remains in the named personal representatives, citing 21 O.S. 2011 §sections 1151(B) and 1158(2). The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained this appeal as a question of first impression and affirmed the trial court's ruling in part. The Supreme Court held that the will did not expressly assign authority over the remains such that it satisfied the requirements of section 1151(B); however, the personal representatives did have priority over the body according to section 1158(2). As such, the trial court properly denied surviving spouse's request for a temporary injunction. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Foresee" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to address whether a child placed for adoption was a pretermitted heir under the terms of the will. The decedent, Judith K. Pratt, left her entire estate to her caregivers and friends, neglecting any family. Her son, plaintiff-appellant Robinson Rogers, which she gave up for adoption at birth but whom she later established a relationship with, objected to the admittance of Pratt's will to probate. He alleged that he was a pretermitted heir, and that the will was procured as the result of undue influence by Pratt's caregivers. The trial court determined that Rogers was not a pretermitted heir and admitted the will to probate. Rogers appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court held that Rogers qualified as a pretermitted heir, and that the evidence was insufficient to show that the omission was intentional. View "Rogers v. Estate of Pratt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to address whether two children who were named beneficiaries in a will were pretermitted heirs. After Fred Franklin James, Sr.'s will was admitted for probate, two of this three children objected to it. One of the children (the daughter) asserted that some of the father's real property, a mechanic's/body shop, should belong to her because she had purchased it from her father pursuant to an oral contract. The other child (a son) asserted that he was a pretermitted heir because the proceeds of the insurance policy his father left to him in the will had beneficiaries inconsistent with the will. In a second, separate case, the daughter also filed a breach of contract/creditor/equitable action against the estate also, again asserting that she purchased the body shop from her father pursuant to an oral agreement. The trial court consolidated the cases and determined that both children were pretermitted. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined neither child was pretermitted because their beneficiary status on a non-probate asset differed from a bequest in a will. The Court reversed part of the trial court's order which found both children were pretermitted. "While the daughter may be entitled to a refund for money she paid to the decedent or improvements she made to the shop property, because she was not pretermitted, she is not entitled to an intestate share of the shop property." Consequently, the consolidated case was remanded for further proceedings. View "In re The Estate of James" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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The estate of an individual that died as a result of an injury incurred while being a patient of a nursing home sued the nursing home facility in a wrongful death action. The district court entered default judgment for Plaintiff after Defendant failed to file a response or appear in court multiple times. Over 200 days later, Defendant filed a petition to vacate default judgment and the petition was granted. Plaintiff appealed the ruling, and the Court of Civil Appeals (COCA), affirmed the trial court's decision. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded it was "patently clear" Defendant's arguments for the Petition to Vacate Judgment as to liability was without merit. "[The Nursing Home] Meeker was given a multitude of opportunities to respond to the litigation, but failed to respond to a single instance for 280 days after the initial service of process. Meeker failed to respond to any service of process or appear at any hearing, and did not have an argument with merit to support the inability to respond to the litigation." Accordingly the Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals, reversed the trial court's judgment granting the Petition To Vacate Judgment as to liability, and remanded this matter for a trial on damages. View "Williams v. Meeker North Dawson Nursing, LLC" on Justia Law

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The probate court disqualified one of two co-personal representatives nominated in decedent's will. The disqualified nominee had a felony conviction for DUI. The probate court ruled that this was a conviction for an infamous crime as provided in 58 O.S.2011, section 102(2), and as defined in In re Dunham's Estate, 74 P.2d 117, and Briggs v. Board of County Commissioners, 217 P.2d 827. The disqualified nominee appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal because the change in case law that Bishop sought could only be ordered by the Supreme Court. Upon review, the Court declined to grant her relief: “the Legislature has tacitly approved the ‘Dunham’ interpretation of infamous crime to mean a felony under Oklahoma law. [. . .] Bishop admits that she has a felony conviction under Oklahoma law for D.U.I. and thus has a conviction for an infamous crime. By the express command of statute, she is not competent to serve as an executor.” View "In the Matter of the Estate of Middleton" on Justia Law

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The probate court disqualified one of two co-personal representatives nominated in decedent's will. The disqualified nominee had a felony conviction for DUI. The probate court ruled that this was a conviction for an infamous crime as provided in 58 O.S.2011, section 102(2), and as defined in In re Dunham's Estate, 74 P.2d 117, and Briggs v. Board of County Commissioners, 217 P.2d 827. The disqualified nominee appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal because the change in case law that Bishop sought could only be ordered by the Supreme Court. Upon review, the Court declined to grant her relief: “the Legislature has tacitly approved the ‘Dunham’ interpretation of infamous crime to mean a felony under Oklahoma law. [. . .] Bishop admits that she has a felony conviction under Oklahoma law for D.U.I. and thus has a conviction for an infamous crime. By the express command of statute, she is not competent to serve as an executor.” View "In the Matter of the Estate of Middleton" on Justia Law

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R.V. Bebout died testate on March 30, 1980, as a resident of Tarrant County, Texas. His Last Will and Testament, dated March 8, 1977, was admitted in the Probate Court of Tarrant County, Texas. At the time of his death, Bebout owned mineral interests in Canadian County, Oklahoma. On September 30, 1981, an ancillary Petition for Probate of Foreign Will was filed in the District Court of Canadian County. Bebout's will provided that his estate was to be distributed in trust to his wife, if she survived him. In the event his wife predeceased him, which she did, his will provided that one-half of his estate was to be distributed to his daughter, Betty Ewell, and one-half to his granddaughter, Betsy Kuykendall. The will made no mention of Bebout's son, Russell Bebout, who had predeceased him, or Bebout's grandsons, John Bebout and James Bebout (Grandsons). The Final Order in the Estate of R.V. Bebout, filed in 1982, distributed his mineral interests to his daughter and granddaughter in equal shares pursuant to the terms of his will. In 2014, the grandsons filed this action in Canadian County, alleging that the mineral interest distribution was void to the extent it failed to distribute the mineral interests one-quarter each to his grandsons who were pretermitted heirs under the will. Citing the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision in “Booth v. McKnight,” (70 P.3d 855 (2003)), the District Court agreed with the grandsons and found the Final Order issued in 1982 was void on its face for lack of proper notice to the grandsons. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that notice to the grandsons was constitutionally sufficient, and thus, the Final Order was not void for lack of proper notice. Grandsons' challenge to the Final Order more than thirty years later was deemed untimely. View "Bebout v. Ewell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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The administrator of a decedent's estate appealed an interlocutory district court order compelling the administrator to file a federal estate tax return for the decedent's estate and elect portability of the Deceased Spousal Unused Exclusion Amount pursuant to 26 U.S.C.A. 2010. The surviving spouse sought the order, and benefits from the portability election. The administrator argued the district court erred on several grounds: lack of jurisdiction; issues with federal preemption; the surviving spouse's lack of standing; and that the order was contrary to an antenuptial agreement entered into between the surviving spouse and the decedent. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "In the matter of Estate of Vose" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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The issue in this cause is whether Plaintiff-appellant Rhonda Brown was estopped from asserting her status as the surviving spouse of the Decedent, Bobby Joe Brown, Jr. Plaintiff and Bobby Joe Brown, Jr. were married in 1995, and three children were born of the marriage. Rhonda testified that after a few years of marriage, she told Bobby she could no longer stay with him if he did not cease his extra-marital affairs. He did not comply with this condition, and Rhonda moved out of the marital home. They were never divorced through a court proceeding. She moved frequently and, at different times, lived in several Oklahoma cities, as well as in Kansas. After Bobby and Rhonda separated, he began living with Ami Alley in 2004. Two children were born to the couple. Ami testified she and Bobby held themselves out as husband and wife to everyone and established a home together in Perry, Oklahoma. Rhonda testified she was aware of the relationship between Ami and Bobby and that he was living with her and their two children. Rhonda testified that Bobby referred to Ami as his girlfriend. In 2013, Bobby died in a motorcycle accident. Ami was named Personal Representative of his estate upon the court's finding she was Bobby's surviving spouse in a common law marriage. Rhonda was not sent notice of the proceeding, and Ami did not advise the court of Rhonda's relationship with Bobby. Ami explained that the court asked if there was anybody to object, and no one appeared to do so. She said the court did not ask about Rhonda, and she did not raise the issue. She also testified Rhonda knew about the proceeding but would not give Ami her address. In the judgment denying Rhonda's Petition and Motion to Revoke Letters of Administration, the trial court found Bobby and Ami's relationship met the requirements of a common law marriage; and that Rhonda re-married in a ceremonial, traditional marriage in 2012. The court based its decision to deny Rhonda's motion to revoke the letters of administration on the issue of estoppel, rather than the legal classification of her marriage to Bobby. Finding that the trial court properly held that Rhonda was estopped from asserting she should have been appointed Personal Representative of Bobby's estate (instead of Ami), the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Alley" on Justia Law