In JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Campbell, a member of a limited partnership sued other partners, including a trustee of a trust, to dissolve the partnership. No. 09-20-00161-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 5001 (Tex. App.—Beaumont June 24, 2021, no pet. history). The trustee was listed as a nominal defendant, and the trustee filed claims seeking declaratory relief regarding it not having to participate in an arbitration proceeding. The plaintiffs then filed additional claims against the trustee including breach of fiduciary duty and for modification of the trust. The trustee filed a special appearance regarding those new claims, which the trial court denied. The trustee appealed.

The court of appeals first held that the trustee did not waive its right to object to personal jurisdiction by answering the original suit and seeking declaratory relief. The court noted that “Rule 120a allows a party to file a special appearance in any severable action of a lawsuit.” Id.  The court held: “the trust modification claim is a severable action, and that JPMorgan did not waive its challenge to the trial court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over it by appearing in and seeking declaratory relief in the underlying arbitration suit.” Id. Continue Reading Texas Court Does Not Have Personal Jurisdiction Over A Trustee Of A Trust With Texas Timber Rights

The owners of a corporation may enter into shareholder agreements. In Richie, the Texas Supreme Court stated: “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

In Lawrence v. Bailey, a son killed his parents with a sledge hammer. No. 01-19-00799-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 4716 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] June 15, 2021, no pet. history). The son was a named beneficiary of the father’s life insurance policy. The insurance company filed an interpleader action regarding the life insurance proceeds. The trial court awarded those to the father’s estate, and the father’s brother then filed a motion for new trial. The brother alleged that under the slayer statute, that he was entitled to the proceeds. The trial court denied the motion, and the brother appealed.

The court of appeals first held that the brother had standing to seek a declaration regarding the ownership of the insurance proceeds. The court noted that the brother argued:

Under the Texas Slayer Statute, a beneficiary of a life insurance policy or contract forfeits the beneficiary’s interest in the policy or contract if the beneficiary is a principal or an accomplice in willfully bringing about the death of the insured.” See Tex. Ins. Code. § 1103.151. He pointed out that, “[i]f there is no contingent beneficiary entitled to receive the proceeds of a life insurance policy or contract, the nearest relative of the insured is entitled to receive the proceeds.” Id. § 1103.152(c).

Continue Reading Relative Had Standing To Assert Slayer Statute And Declaration Regarding Rights To Insurance Proceeds Over Victim’s Estate

In Bird v. Carl C. Anderson, a trust beneficiary sued a defendant for usurping a trustee’s role and breaching fiduciary duties as a de facto trustee. No. 03-21-00140-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 5036 (Tex. App.—Austin June 24, 2021, no pet. history). The plaintiff complained that the defendant “reinvested the proceeds into ‘high-risk and non-diversified investments that exposed the trusts and [their] beneficiaries to inappropriate levels of risk,’ causing the trusts to substantially diminish in value; distributed assets to himself, Jennifer, and perhaps others to the Foundation’s detriment; and had Jennifer sign all of the transactional documents in her role as trustee even though she was and is incapacitated.” Id. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 91, arguing that there was no de facto trustee status in Texas. The trial court denied the motion, found that “Texas law recognizes the legal capacity of ‘de facto trustee’ in the context of the administration of private trusts,” but certified the issue for permissive appeal.
The court of appeals declined to accept the petition for interlocutory appeal. Continue Reading Court Discusses De Facto Trustee Status In Texas

David F. Johnson presented “Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claims Against Trustees/Managers of Closely-Held Businesses” with Kenneth J. Fair of Wright Close & Barger, LLP, on July 22, 2021, for Strafford Webinars to a national audience. This presentation covered various issues involved in a trustee owning an interest in a closely-held business when disputes arise. The presentation discussed why a trust may own an interest in a closely-held business, the fiduciary duties of a trustee, the fiduciary duties of an officer/director and the business judgment rule, the conflicting standards that may apply when a person is both a trustee and an officer/director, how to resolve those conflicting duties, the payment of litigation expenses when suits arise in this area, and issues involving the attorney/client relationship and the attorney/client privilege.

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In Trinh v. Cent. River Healthcare Group, a brother sued his sister over the management of a PLLC. No. 03-19-00393-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 4542 (Tex. App.—Austin June 9, 2021, no pet. history). The brother claimed that the sister promised to pay him a salary, and she did not. The court of appeals affirmed the jury’s finding that there was no such promise based on the sister’s testimony that she did not remember making such a proposal, and even so: “evidence of a proposal does not prove an agreement.” Id.

The brother also challenged the jury’s finding that the sister complied with her duty by disputing that “the transactions in question were fair and equitable to Khiem . . . and 4. Loann [] placed the interests of Khiem [] before her own and did not use the advantage of her position to gain any benefit for herself at the expense of Khiem.” The brother argued that he contributed more than a half million dollars to the business when the sister claimed to own 100% of it and that the sister required the brother to pay federal income tax on 5% of the company’s profits most years, and on 50% of the profits one year while the brother received nothing in return. The jury heard testimony from the sister that

Khiem may have forfeited whatever interest he had in CRHG. In October 2011, he emailed Loann: “I don’t want to run the clinics. I am saving it before they collapse. Those are your clinics. I built them in the beginning for you. . . . I want you to take over without any headache. . . . Every investment in there is yours.” Loann testified to the point of Khiem’s email: “So basically he’s willing to forfeit everything so that way I can come back and run and resuscitate the clinic. That to me means that everything is under my management, my care[]. The whole business is legally under my direction[].” She also testified that she understood this email to mean “that he’s relinquished all his positions whether management, ownership, all investment. So it says every investment is yours.”

Id. Further, regarding the taxes, the court noted:

[T]he evidence does not support Khiem’s assertion that Loann “required” Khiem to pay those amounts of federal income tax. Khiem testified that he and Loann were equally responsible for the preparation of the tax return, that he sent the tax documents to the tax advisor and relied on him to prepare the filings, that he signed the tax filings that indicated the profit attribution of 95% for Loann and 5% for Khiem for the relevant tax years (2005-2012) except the 2007 tax filing indicated a 50% split, and that he “wasn’t interest[ed] in the profit [during] that period of time because there’s no profit.”

Id. The court affirmed the trial court’s judgment and the jury’s verdict for the sister.

David Johnson presented his paper “The More The Merrier? Issues Arising From Co-Trustees Administering Trusts” to the State Bar of Texas’s Advanced Estate Planning and Probate Course on June 9, 2021. This presentation addressed the advantages and drawbacks for co-trustee management, who can be a co-trustee and succession issues, fiduciary duties and joint management, the duty and right to participate in management and cooperation, delegation of duties between co-trustees, the duty to disclose, co-trustee compensation, co-trustee deadlock and methods for breaking same, liability for co-trustee’s actions, third party reliance on co-trustee’s actions, the duty to sue a co-trustee,  the payment of costs of litigation (ultimate and in the interim), litigation issues, attorney/client privilege issues, and drafting issues.

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In Austin v. Mitchell, a wife filed suit alleging her ex-husband fraudulently transferred a portion of his limited partnership interest in a family limited partnership to a trust for the benefit of his children. No. 05-19-01359-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 4536 (Tex. App.—Dallas June 8, 2021, no pet. history). The trial court granted summary judgment for the husband and the wife appealed. Continue Reading Wife’s Fraudulent Transfer Claim Against Husband For Transferring Business Interests To Trust Failed Due To The Statute Of Repose

In In re Estate of Stewart, siblings filed claims regarding the administration of their father’s estate. No. 04-20-00103-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 3897 (Tex. App.—San Antonio May 19, 2021, no pet. history). Among other claims, a sister claimed that her brother breached fiduciary duties as executor by distributing real property to three of the siblings, but not to her. The brother claimed that he had the right to do so under the Estates Code. The jury found that the brother breached his fiduciary duties, but found that the sister had not been harmed. The brother appealed. The court of appeals first discussed an executor’s fiduciary duties to the estate’s beneficiaries:

“The relationship between an executor and the estate’s beneficiaries is one that gives rise to a fiduciary duty as a matter of law.” “An executor’s fiduciary duty to the estate’s beneficiaries arises from the executor’s status as trustee of the property of the estate.” “The executor thus holds the estate in trust for the benefit of those who have acquired a vested right to the decedent’s property under the will.” “The fiduciary duties owed to the beneficiaries of an estate by an independent executor include a duty of full disclosure of all material facts known to the executor that might affect the beneficiaries’ rights.” “A fiduciary also ‘owes its principal a high duty of good faith, fair dealing, honest performance, and strict accountability.’” “When an independent executor takes the oath and qualifies in that capacity, he or she assumes all duties of a fiduciary as a matter of law which, in addition to other duties, includes the duty to avoid commingling of funds.”

Continue Reading Court Holds That An Executor May Breach Duties In Making A Non-Pro Rata Distribution Of Assets

In Villareal v. Saenz, two co-owners of a limited liability company sued each other regarding conduct surrounding a business divorce. 5-20-CV-00571-OLG-RBF, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94183 (W.D. Tex. May 18, 2021). After the parties asserted allegations against each other, they entered into a release agreement. The parties agreed that “Saenz would assign his entire interest to ZroBlack LLC to Villarreal.” After the release, Saenz refused to return certain property to the company. Villarreal sued for breach of fiduciary duty and other claims.

Saenz filed a motion to dismiss, and the district court magistrate judge recommended that the claims that arose before the release be dismissed, but recommended that the claims that arose after the release continue. Regarding Saenz’s fiduciary duties after the release agreement was executed, the court stated: Continue Reading Business Divorce: Exiting Member of LLC May Still Owe Fiduciary Duties