Few things help to drive up the billable hours like a dispute between family members over a pile of money. The bitter brew of everyday greed and family pathology simply lends itself to knock-down, drag-out legal fights.
One example is the recent attempt by a California woman to use an adult adoption to cut off the rights of relatives to the assets of a trust.
In Nixon Family Trust v. Nixon, the question faced by the Nebraska Supreme Court was whether an adult adoption that was valid under California law was entitled to full faith and credit in Nebraska.
Grace Nixon was the sole beneficiary of a trust created by her father. Under the terms of the trust, its assets were to go to Grace’s brother, John, and his children if Grace died childless.
Apparently such a result was intolerable to the elderly Grace who had no children of her own, so she adopted her 50-year-old cousin Daley before she died.
John’s children argued that the trust was theirs because adult adoption is contrary to the public policy of Nebraska.
Not so, said the court, concluding to Daley’s profound gratitude that Nebraska must give full faith and credit to the California adoption.
Two sparring siblings were featured in a will contest that recently made it before the South Carolina Supreme Court. (Theisen v. Theisen)
Unfortunately for Lisbeth Theisen, the court decided that because her father’s will had earlier been admitted to informal probate in New Jersey, her South Carolina challenge to the validity of that will was barred by that state’s eight-month statute of limitations.
For divorce attorneys, we have the case of a prenuptial agreement standing between a Washington woman and her ex-husband’s $25 million.
The state supreme court agreed with the wife that agreement was unfair because it limited her inheritance rights, prevented her from seeking spousal maintenance and sheltered the husband from liability for any debts she incurred.
But what really made the agreement unenforceable in the court’s eyes was the fact that a final draft was not available for her attorney’s perusal until several days before the wedding.
Of note, the court held that such a deficiency could not be cured by amendments to the agreement after the wedding. (Bernard v. Bernard)
Also from the Left Coast, the Oregon Supreme Court decided that a judge could not impose a constructive trust on a portion of the proceeds of a life insurance policy that was supposed to have been — but was not — maintained by the decedent for the benefit of his child and former wife. (Tupper v. Roan).
— Pat Murphy