David Johnson presented his paper entitled “Fiduciary Litigation Update 2020-2021” to the Texas Bankers Association’s Wealth Management & Trust Conference on September 30, 2021. This presentation covered recent statutory changes and case law updates. He discussed extending the rule against perpetuities, de jure versus de facto status as trustee, modifications to trusts, trust construction, temporary injunctions against trustees, trustee authority to sell real estate, trust management of closely held businesses, co-trustee management, exculpatory clauses, acceptance-of-the-benefits doctrine, will reformation, and more.

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David F. Johnson presented his paper “Practical Issues Concerning Power of Attorney Transactions” to the Annual Legal Conference 2021 hosted by the Texas Bankers Association and the Southwest Association of Bank Counsel on October 7, 2021. This presentation addressed many of the common issues that financial institutions face when a customer’s agent under a power of attorney document wants to consummate a transaction. The issues discussed were the formation of a valid power of attorney document; termination of the agency; the agent’s powers; springing powers; a financial institution’s right to an agent’s certification, attorney opinion, English translation, doctor’s note, and the protections afforded a financial institution for requesting same; a financial institution’s duty to participate in the transaction and the ability to deny the transaction; elder abuse; and the duty to report financial exploitation.

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David F. Johnson, lead writer for the Texas Fiduciary Litigator blog, discusses in this two part series many of the interesting and complex issues that arise from trustees making trust distributions to beneficiaries. The first part of the series discussed the general standards for trust distributions. The second part of this series will address other issues concerning distributions, such as the duty to disclose distributions, the duty of impartiality, the principal and income act, prudent investor act, trust provisions that allow the divesting of a beneficiary’s right to distributions, issues arising from a trustee also being a beneficiary, trustee discretion in distributing a trust upon termination, distributions to minors or incapacitated beneficiaries, loans from a trust as a distribution, spendthrift trust issues, co-trustee managing issues, exculpatory clauses, trustee’s defense of failure to know of facts relevant for distributions, trustee’s rights regarding overdistributions, and other relevant issues. Continue Reading FSIG Webinar – Distributions from Trusts in Texas: Part Two

In In the Interest of Riley Family Revocable Trust, a trustee filed suit for a declaration regarding who takes in the distribution of remaining trust property. No. 13-20-00084-CV 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 5839 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi July 22, 2021, no pet. history). In article two, section 2.01, the Trust states:

Upon the death of both Trustors, the primary residuary beneficiaries of this Trust are the children of the Trustors, BARBARA JEAN RILEY JONES, BRENDA JUNE RILEY BRAGG, STEPHEN MARCUS RILEY, and ELAINE RILEY, and their descendants… For purposes of this Trust Agreement, the terms “issue” or “descendant” shall not include any child adopted by a grandchild of the Trustors.

Continue Reading Court Reversed Trial Court On Interpretation Of Trust Regarding Per Stirpes Versus Per Capita Distributions

In Hotze v. In Mgmt., LLC, family members sued each other over control of a family business. No. 14-18-00995-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 5821 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] July 22, 2021, no pet. history). Three of the brothers ended up with greatly increased control of the company after debt the company owed to a partnership formed by the three brothers was partially converted into company stock. Id. Two other brothers and other associated parties filed two lawsuits, bringing both individual and derivative claims, which were consolidated for trial. “A key issue in the case was whether the promissory note between Troika and CECO authorized a partial conversion of debt for stock.” Id. The trial court concluded that it did, and instructed the jury to that effect. The two brothers appealed. Continue Reading Court Holds That Promissory Note Did Not Allow Partial Conversion To Equity

In Novedea Sys. v. Colaberry, Inc., co-founders of a business discussed terms of a buy-out, but ended up in litigation. No. 6:20-cv-00180-JDK, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152372 (E. D. Tex. August 13, 2021). One co-founder sued on his behalf and on behalf of the company against the other co-founder without discussing the suit with the other co-founder or the board of directors. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff did not have authority to file a lawsuit for the company. The plaintiff responded that his “authority derives from his standing “as a longtime manager and corporate officer” of Novedea, or alternatively, as a shareholder bringing a derivative action.” Id. Continue Reading Court Holds That Shareholder Derivative Suit May Proceed Against An Officer Without A Pre-Suit Demand Where The Case Involved A Closely-Held Corporation

The owners of a corporation may enter into shareholder agreements that address and resolve many disputes. For example, the Texas Supreme Court noted: “Shareholders of closely-held corporations may address and resolve such difficulties by entering into shareholder agreements that contain buy-sell, first refusal, or redemption provisions that reflect their mutual expectations and agreements.” Ritchie v. Rupe, 443 S.W.3d 856, 871 (Tex. 2014). Continue Reading Shareholder Agreements Are Very Powerful In Texas: Parties Should Carefully Review Those Agreements Before Obtaining Stock In A Corporation

Trust beneficiaries often request a corporate trustee to prepare a statutory accounting. The Texas Trust Code in Section 113.151 provides that a beneficiary may request a written statement of accounts. Tex. Prop. Code 113.151. Regarding what information needs to be contained in a written statement of accounts, parties and the courts must first look to the terms of the trust. Tex. Prop. Code § 111.0035(b). As one commentator provides: “The settlor may specify in the terms of the trust instrument what must be contained in an accounting by the trustee. When the trust instrument is silent concerning the contents of an accounting, the Trust Code provides a list of items that must be included in every accounting.” 4 Texas Probate, Estate and Trust Administration § 81.63. A trustee and a court should give deference to the trust document and follow its requirements (whether more stringent or less stringent than a statutes require). Continue Reading Corporate Trustee’s Statements May Suffice For A Statutory Accounting

Parties often add limitation-of-liability clauses to their agreements. These types of clauses can purport to limit a party’s claims or damages or both.  Damage-limitation clauses can take many different forms. For example, such a clause may forbid the recovery of consequential or loss profits damages. Cont’l Holdings, Ltd. v. Leahy, 132 S.W.3d 471, 475-76 (Tex. App.—Eastland 2003, no pet.). Further, a contractual provision setting an upper limit on the amount recoverable is a limitation of liability provision. Arthur’s Garage, Inc. v. Racal-Chubb Sec. Sys., 997 S.W.2d 803, 810 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1999, no pet.); Fox Elec. Co. v. Tone Guard Sec., Inc., 861 S.W.2d 79, 83 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1993, no writ). If a plaintiff brings suit, the terms of the contract determine the relative positions of the parties and control the level of liability of either party. Federated Dept. Stores, Inc. v. Houston Lighting & Power Co., 646 S.W.2d 509, 511 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1982, no writ). Continue Reading A Limitation-Of-Liability Clause May Or May Not Be Enforceable For Breach Of Fiduciary Duty Claims

David F. Johnson presented his paper “Business Divorce: Minority Shareholder Rights In Texas” to the State Bar of Texas’s Business Disputes Course on September 2-3, 2021. This presentation addressed shareholder oppression claims in Texas, minority shareholder rights (such as contractual rights, stock rights, disclosure rights, distribution rights, employment rights, and receivership rights), fiduciary duties in business divorce cases, derivative actions, and attorney representation issues.

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