The following will was filed for probate. The trial court found that the testator was incompetent. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court and found that the testator was competent.

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Here is an excerpt from the opinion of the court: “An examination of all this testimony convinces us beyond serious doubt that at the time he made this will, Emanuel Kerchner was competent and in possession of his mental faculties to such an extent that he knew well the property which he possessed, the indebtedness due him, his relation to his kindred, his duty toward such kindred. That he knew the diposition which he desired to make of his property and that the will which he executed expressed his intentions. We are particularly impressed with that testimony of George L. Cook, who drew the will; of Dr. W. H. Harris, one of the attesting witnesses, and of L. E. McClure, the executor. It appears that upon the recommendation of a friend, who was in no wise interested, the deceased went to Cook and stated to him that he desired to have his will drawn. Cook had known Emanuel Kerchner for a number of years, but had not been connected with him in any way, and as far as the testimony goes had not attended to any business for him. Emanuel Kerchner came into Cook’s office on the 17th day of April, 1920, by himself. It does not appear that any person came to town with him. He stated plainly and with clearness to Mr. Cook the property which he had and the disposition which he desired to make of it by will. He acted and talked normally, talked with Cook about his relations. Cook took down with pencil the instructions given him as to the provisions of the will, read them over to Kerchner and asked him if they met his approval. He said they were exactly what he wanted; stated that he held a note against Nick Kerchner and desired to give him that note; that Harry Burns had treated him more kindly than his own son. Cook then drew the will on the typewriter, read it over to Kerchner. It was satisfactory. Dr. W. H. Harris, the physician who knew Kerchner well, and had treated him for many years, was called as one witness to the will, and Dr. Tibbets as another witness. Both of those men had offices in the same building where the will was drawn. They were requested by Kerchner to witness the will when he had stated to them that it was his last will and testament. They did so, and Kerchner then took the will and went away.

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¶17 Dr. W. H. Harris, one of the attesting witnesses, had been acquainted with Kerchner for 25 years. Had seen his frequently during that time and had acted as his physician. He testified that his mental condition did not change from the time he first became acquainted with him up to the time he saw him a short time before his death, and Dr. Harris attended him in his last illness. L. E. McClure, the executor and a banker, had known Kerchner since 1912. Kerchner had kept his papers in that bank. Kerchner brought his will to McClure in the bank on the date it was executed, told him that it was his will and he wanted it put away for safekeeping. McClure put the will in Kerchner’s safety box with the rest of his papers and after Kerchner’s death broke the seal on the envelope, brought the will to Alva and turned it over to the county judge. McClure was acquainted with Kerchner in a business way. Deceased Kerchner had kept an account at McClure’s bank for years and always transacted his own business without the assistance of any one. When he brought the will to McClure there was no one with him, He transacted business with the bank just the same afterwards as before the will was deposited there. McClure says that the deceased was entirely capable of carrying on his business, understood the nature of all business transactions, and the value and extent of his property, and that he noticed no difference in the deceased from the time he first became acquainted with him until the last time he saw him, shortly before his death.

¶18 The substance of this testimony as to the normal condition of the mind of Emanuel Kerchner is sustained by the testimony of many witnesses, all of whom had thorough opportunity to judge of his condition during many years and up to the time of the making of his will and up to the time of his death. All this testimony has convinced us that the testator, Kerchner, was at the time of making this will of sound mind, and the testimony introduced by the protestant does not, in our judgment, when considered in its most favorable aspects, reach the point where it raises in our mind any serious doubt as to the competency of the testator. We therefore find that the judgment of the trial court upon this branch of the case was not sustained by sufficient evidence and was against the great weight of the evidence.”

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The will in question is as follows:

“Know All Men by These Presents: That I, Emanuel J. Kerchner of Kiowa, in the county of Barber, in the state of Kansas, being in good health (or ill health) and of sound and disposing mind and memory, do make and publish this, my last will and testament, hereby revoking all former wills by me made; and as to my worldly estate and all the property, real, personal or mixed, of which I shall die seized and possessed, or to which I shall be entitled at the time of my decease, I devise, bequeath and dispose thereof in the manner following, to wit:

“First: That all my funeral expenses, and any expense occurring from sickness, be paid in full out of the proceeds of my estate.

“Second: To my grandson, Harry Burns, I bequeath the school land, being the northeast quarter of section thirty-six (36), township twenty-nine (29), range thirteen (13) in the county of Woods, Oklahoma; Provided that he assume and pay all assessments due the government as it becomes due.

“Third: To my son, Nick K. Kerchner, I bequeath one promissory note, the amount being
$1,470.50, dated April 10, 1917; also one promissory note, being in amount $ 500, dated May 25th, 1918; also any bills I may have paid out for improvement on his school land in Harper county, Okla.

“Fourth: To my daughter, Ninnie Burns, I bequeath the sum of ten dollars ($ 10.00).

“Fifth: To my grandson, Harry Burns, I bequeath the southeast quarter of twenty-five (25), township twenty-nine (29), range thirteen (13) in the county of Woods, Okla., provided, that he pays Nick K. Kerchner the sum of eleven hundred and seventy-three dollars and 50-100 (1,173.50), the same to be paid in two equal payments of five hundred eighty-six and 75-100 dollars ($ 586.75) the first payment one year after my decease, and the second one year thereafter.

“Sixth: All moneys or bonds that I may have are to be equally divided with my son Nick K. Kerchner and my grandson, Harry Burns.

“And lastly, I do nominate and appoint L. E. McClure to be the executor of this, my last will and testament.

“In Witness Whereof. I, the said Emanuel J. Kerchner, have to this, my last will and testament, subscribed my name…”

The Supreme Court reversed the trial court and found that the testator was competent. It is important that the appellant court noted the important badges of competency of an individual to make a will. These are: (1) he knew well the property which he possessed; (2) the indebtedness due him; (3) his relation to his kindred; (4) his duty toward such kindred; (5) he knew the diposition which he desired to make of his property; (6) the will which he executed expressed his intentions.

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The Supreme Court affirmed the following legal principles in reaching its decision:

A testator has a sound mind for testamentary purposes when he can understand and carry in mind, in a general way, the nature and situation of his property and his relations to those who naturally have some claim to his remembrance and to those in whom and the things in which he has been chiefly interested.

The testator must have sufficient memory to comprehend the conditions of his property and his relations to the objects of his bounty, but the fact that the memory of an old person has failed somewhat does not of itself invalidate his will, as occasional lapses of memory, mere decay or feebleness of memory or absent mindedness, ought not to invalidate a will unless amounting under our general rule to a mental incapacity to collect the particulars essential to a just testamentary disposition.

A presumption of sanity goes with everyone, and the burden of proving unsoundness of mind in a will contest rests on the contestant.

From this case certain “Badges of Competency” are evident. First, there is an overall presumption that a will properly executed (you need an attorney to make sure this is done correctly) was competently executed. There is a presumption of sanity, or competency. The burden to prove that someone was not competent is on the objector to the will.

Second, no one has to be perfect mentally to make a valid will. A good enough memory is OK. It does not have to perfect. Forgetfulness is allowed. Did the will maker understand what he or she owned. Who his or her relatives were and who would be his or her natural objects of his love and affection.

It is good enough to know in a general way what is owned, and the relationship with the natural objects of bounty or close family and friends. The Supreme Court stated these five “Badges of Competency” as follows: (1) To know in a general way the property owned; (2) To know in a general way his or her own business affairs; (3) To remember his or her relationship with close family and friends; (4) To understand that he or she has a duty toward close family; (5) To know and understand what he or she wanted to happen with the estate after death.

Brent has been helping his clients since 1976.  He knows his way around the courtroom, but also how to keep his clients out of court.  He is an expert with wills, trusts, probate, living wills, advance directives, guardianships, powers of attorney and solving many problems that affect us all.  Brent is an expert with nursing home Medicaid qualification.  He has saved thousands of dollars for his clients who need to qualify for Medicaid.  He knows how to legally protect resources and qualify for Medicaid.  He is experienced in dealing with the Department of Human Resources.  Cal Brent’s office at (405) 478-5655 or 737-2244.  Brent has two offices: 1800 East Memorial Road, Suite 106, Oklahoma City and 2801 Parklawn Drive, Suite 503, Midwest City.

 

In the case of WELCH v. CROW, 2009 OK 20, 206 P.3d 599 Decided: 03/31/2009 THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMADYLAN WELCH and HILLARY found that on April 12, 1995, a mother created her revocable trust and executed a pour-over will. Pour over wills are never intended to be probated, since all of the property is supposed to be owned in the revocable trust.

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The only problem is that the mother had a deceased son who left issue that she didn’t leave anything to in her trust or in her will. Neither the will nor the Trust made any provision for her deceased son’s issue. The grandchildren fought the will and trust. They claimed they were entitled to a share of the Trust as pretermitted heirs or that the Trust was illusory.

The Supreme Court held that: 1) Oklahoma’s pretermitted heirs statute, 84 O.S. 2001 §132, is not applicable to revocable inter vivos trusts; and 2) because the Trust provided for contingent beneficiaries, it was not illusory simply because Neighbors was the sole trustee and the only vested present beneficiary.
The mother her revocable trust and she was the sole trustee and only vested beneficiary during her life. Upon its creation, some of her property was conveyed into the Trust. The terms of the Trust provided that at the time of her death, the successor trustees were to be her daughters, and her son-in-law, collectively, the trustees. After the Trust paid the expenses of the estate, the remaining principal and income were to be distributed to the daughters in equal shares.

The will recognized that the mother had four children, including the one deceased. The son deceased was deceased at the time of the will’s execution. The grandchildren were not referred to in the will. The will provided that at the time of her death, the entirety of her estate was to be distributed to the Trust. This is what a pour-over will usually does, it pours-over into the trust. If the Trust were not in existence at the time of her death, the will provided that her daughters take the entirety of her estate in equal shares. And the will also stated that she was omitting anything for her other living son.

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The trial court found that the omitted issue of her deceased son were her heirs and were pretermitted heirs as defined by 84 O.S. 2001 §132.7.

The grandchildren won with the will, so they then filed a suit contesting the trust. Asking the court to determine that either they had a statutory share in the Trust and were entitled to an accounting by the trustees or, in the alternative, that the Trust was illusory. The trial court ruled against the omitted grandchildren.

The first impression question before the Supreme Court was whether naming a contingent beneficiary satisfies the requirement that a trust may not have the same person as sole trustee and sole beneficiary.
Title 84 O.S. 2001 §132 Does Not Apply To Revocable Inter Vivos Trusts.

The grandchildren argued that as pretermitted heirs, they were entitled to a statutory share in the Trust under 84 O.S. 2001 §132.14 The trust responded that §132 applies only to wills, and not to trusts. The Supreme Court noted that the opinion of In re Estate of Jackson, 2008 OK 83, 194 P.3d 1269, held that §132 “unambiguously pertains only to wills. It does not encompass a situation where a child is omitted from a trust, and we decline to extend its reach to revocable inter vivos trusts, and that the grandchildren are not entitled to a statutory share in the Trust.

The other first impression question was whether naming a contingent beneficiary satisfies the requirement that a trust may not have the same person as sole trustee and sole beneficiary. In other words, can you make a self-settled trust when you are the sole beneficiary. The Supreme Court held that the right to dispose of property is an inalienable natural right that persists throughout a person’s lifetime, and the right to control disposition of property after death is subject to statutory limitations. And, that Oklahoma law permits an individual to dispose of property at death by trust.

When it is applied to the law of trusts, the so-called “merger doctrine” is the equitable concept that a valid trust must have a separation of the legal estate from the beneficial enjoyment, and that no trust can exist where the same person possesses both.18 Title 60 O.S. 2001 §175.6, without using the term “merger doctrine,” codifies the principle that if a trustor is a beneficiary and the sole trustee, a valid trust also requires a beneficiary other than the trustor.19 Title 60 O.S. 2001 §175.3(K) defines a trust beneficiary as “any person entitled to receive from a trust any benefit of whatsoever kind or character.”

The majority rule is that a trust is not illusory or invalid simply because the interests of its beneficiaries, other than the trustor, are contingent. The Restatement (Third) of Trusts §25, Comment b provides in pertinent part:

(The) validity (of) an inter vivos trust is not affected by the fact that the interests of all beneficiaries other than the settlor do not take effect in possession or enjoyment before the settlor’s death, or that they are contingent or subject to conditions subsequent, including the exercise of a power of revocation, withdrawal, amendment, or appointment reserved to the settlor, whether exercisable during life or by will.

The reporter’s note to Restatement (Third) of Trusts §25, Comment b provides in pertinent part:

(C)ourts regularly and properly find valid trusts where settlors have retained complete control, and where other beneficiaries usually, if drafting is competent, have only future interests that are not only defeasible (by revocation or amendment) but also “contingent” upon surviving the settlor and maybe other events as well. . . .

Seven states have enacted statutes which explicitly provide that a trust which has the same person as sole trustee and sole present beneficiary is not invalid if it provides for a contingent or successor beneficiary. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted a version of the Uniform Trust Code, which provides at §402(b) that a beneficiary is definite if the beneficiary can be ascertained at the time of the creation of the trust or at some time in the future, subject to the rule against perpetuities. The Uniform Comment to §402(a)(5) provides that the merger doctrine is not applicable to a trust with the same person as sole trustee and sole life interest beneficiary if another person is designated the remainder beneficiary. Two other states, which do not have a statute directly addressing the issue, have adopted the Restatement view in appellate court opinions. While there are a few state court decisions which take a view contrary to the Restatement, each of these decisions has been subsequently overruled by statute. A few other decisions appear to require a present, vested beneficiary other than the sole trustee, but, by using terms like “vested interest subject to divestment” to rename contingent interests, embrace the Restatement view for all practical purposes. Our research has not disclosed a viable case or statute contrary to the Restatement view on this issue.

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The Supreme Court stated that in Thomas v. Bank of Okla., N.A., 1984 OK 41, ¶21, 684 P.2d 553, this Court determined that a revocable inter vivos trust may not be employed to defeat a surviving spouse’s forced share of an estate as provided by 84 O.S. 2001 §44. The Court held that such a trust was illusory as to the surviving spouse and set forth the method of determining the validity of a trust:

(T)he test of the validity of a trust is whether the transfer is real or illusory; that the test is whether the settlor in good faith divested himself of the property ownership or simply made an illusory transfer as a mask for the effective retention of the property.

Here, it is clear that the Trust was not an artifice for the effective retention of Neighbors’ property. Instead, Neighbors employed the common estate-planning device of creating a revocable inter vivos trust and simultaneously executing a pour-over will to provide for her heirs at the time of her death. The Restatement view is persuasive and consistent with the definition of a trust beneficiary found at 60 O.S. 2001 §175.3(K). A trust is not illusory simply because it has the same person as the sole trustee and only vested present beneficiary if it provides for at least a contingent beneficiary.

The Supreme Court held that the Trust was not illusory simply because the mother was the sole trustee and she was the only vested present beneficiary during her life. Because the Trust provided for her daughters as contingent beneficiaries, it was a valid trust.

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An experienced probate and living trust attorney like Brent D. Coldiron, knows what to do in these situations. His fees are reasonable. The best money ever spent is to get good legal advice before signing your name to something. Contact Brent at (405) 478-5655 or 737-2244. His website is http://coldironlaw.com.

Are you a co-trustee with someone else of a loved ones trust? Do you know someone who is a co-trustee? When you are a co-trustee with someone, things can go wrong.

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It doesn’t seem possible for things to go wrong when you have two people being a co-trustee. You may wonder what could go wrong if you have two trustees. When you have two trustees, those people may not agree on everything, which is where the disagreements may come into place.

In the case HALL v. CUTSINGER (345 P. 3d 412 (Okla. Civ. App. Div. 3 2015) a parent and her co-trustee had to bring action against the other co-trustee to recover money and assets her purportedly misappropriated while he was a co-trustee. The trustor and her daughter advanced all of court appointed expert’s fees, and then granting them a judgment against defendant son in the amount of $30,510.35. “With regard to trial court’s order requiring trustor and her daughter, as co-trustee, to advance defendant son’s portion of fees owed court appointed expert, expert was not a party to trustor and daughter’s action to recover money and assets purportedly misappropriated by son as co-trustee, and thus, statutory provisions governing parties seeking to recover costs or fees, or opposing a motion, did not apply.” The trustor and her daughter tried to recover money and assets purportedly misappropriated by son while acting as co-trustee, evidence was sufficient to support trial court’s finding that son had no apparent ability to pay his share of court appointed expert fees. They made seven attempts to serve him with a writ of general execution were unsuccessful, and attempts to garnish his bank accounts were unsuccessful because he had no money or assets, other than exempt funds, in those accounts. The trustor created the Norma J. Hall Living Trust and appointed her son as co-trustee. In 2008 when learning her son misappropriated money and assets belonging to both her and the trust, the trustor removed him as trustee and appointed her daughter as co-trustee. This case eventually went to trial on December, 2012. Appellants recovered a judgment against the son of approximately $1.4 million. After a hearing, the trial court issued an Order finding that each party was responsible for one-half of the accountant’s fees but that the son had no apparent ability to pay his share. The court ordered Appellants to pay the balance owed to the accountant and granted Appellants a cost judgment against the son in the amount of $30,510.35, the portion of the accountant’s fees owed by the son.

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This case is stating that even though you are a trustee that doesn’t mean you can take money out of the trust. Being a co-trustee means that if the trustor passes away or gets ill, you and the other co-trustee are in charge of the trust. You have no responsibility of the trust until you act as a trustee of the trust.

Integrity and common sense will avoid lawsuits. If you are a trustee be honest. Don’t pay yourself without notifying the beneficiaries what you doing, how much you are paying yourself and why you deserve the fee. Do not commingle the trust funds with your money. Keep a separate trust account. Use a business arms length approach when conducting trust business. Bend over backwards to be fair to the beneficiaries. These are precautions you can follow that will make your life easier if you accept the responsibility to serve as a trustee.

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An experienced probate and living trust attorney like Brent D. Coldiron, knows what to do in these situations. His fees are reasonable. The best money ever spent is to get good legal advice before signing your name to something. Contact Brent at (405) 478-5655 or 737-2244. His website is http://coldironlaw.com.

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