Tennessee Court of Appeals Upholds Decedent’s Will Contest Action

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently reviewed a case involving a will contest and resulting trust, In re Estate of Donald Emerson Kysor. In 1992, the plaintiff and her husband purchased parcels of real property. Within days of her husband’s death in 2004, the plaintiff executed a deed conveying title to the property to the decedent in the case, who was her husband’s uncle. The decedent executed a 2004 will, bequeathing all of his property to the plaintiff. In 2006, however, the decedent executed a new will, bequeathing all of his property to another friend. The decedent died in 2012, and the 2006 will was entered into probate.

The plaintiff subsequently filed a will contest action. The plaintiff alleged that her husband sought to protect their assets from creditors, and she stated that the property was only conveyed to the decedent with the understanding that he would bequeath the property to the plaintiff upon his death. The plaintiff also alleged that the decedent was incompetent at the time he executed the 2006 will. After a hearing, the trial court granted the estate’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the plaintiff presented no evidence that the decedent was incompetent. The court also found that insofar as the plaintiff maintained that her husband had entered into an agreement with the decedent in an effort to evade creditors, she had commenced the action with unclean hands.

On appeal, the court affirmed that the plaintiff offered no countervailing proof that the decedent was incompetent at the time he executed his 2006 will. Although the decedent’s medical records indicated that he was in failing health, there was no evidence to indicate his mental incompetence.

The appeals court also found that a resulting trust could not be established based on the facts presented by the plaintiff. In Tennessee, the imposition of a resulting trust is an equitable remedy invoked to prevent unjust enrichment. Essentially, a resulting trust may arise when one person is obligated in equity to hold legal title for the benefit of another. Although no intention to create a trust was manifested by the parties, it is implied as a matter of law by nature and circumstances involved. Resulting trusts are generally found upon the failure of an express trust or the purpose of such a trust, or upon a conveyance to one person on a consideration from another, although they may also be imposed in other circumstances in order to prevent a failure of justice.

In In re Estate of Donald Emerson Kysor, the plaintiff’s claim for a resulting trust was based on her assertion that her husband entered into an agreement with the decedent to hold the property in trust for her. However, with no evidence or witness to the agreement, the appeals court affirmed the decision of the lower court.

An experienced trusts and estates attorney can help you plan for the settlement of your estate, as well as identify any potential issues that may arise. At the Nashville firm of MHPS, our knowledgeable lawyers assist clients in a variety of cases, including probate litigation, family law matters, personal injury, and will contest lawsuits. To discuss your estate planning needs with a legal professional, call (615) 800-7096 or contact us online.

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