May 27, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Lacks Jurisdiction Over Respondent who Never Received Notice of Protective Proceeding

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In the Interest of Spohr on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Emergency Guardianship—Non-Emergency GuardianshipPersonal Service of Notice—Jurisdiction—Probate Code.

On July 15, 2016, the Fremont County Department of Human Services (Department) filed a petition for emergency appointment of a guardian for Spohr in the district court. Counsel was appointed for Spohr and an emergency hearing was held three days later. There was no transcript of the hearing and no indication that Spohr was present or that he received notice of the hearing. On July 19 the magistrate issued an order dispensing with notice under C.R.S. § 15-14-312 stating that Spohr would be substantially harmed if the appointment was delayed. The court appointed the Department as emergency guardian and required notice of the appointment to be personally served on Spohr within 48 hours, as required by C.R.S. § 15-14-312(2). There is no proof that service was made. Despite the C.R.S. § 15-14-312(1) requirement that an emergency guardian appointment may not exceed 60 days, the court did not hold another hearing for more than six months and the emergency guardianship remained in place during that time. A permanent guardian was appointed for Spohr at a February 2017 hearing, but there is no indication that he was served with notice of this hearing. The trial court record includes a finding that the “required notices have been given or waived.”

The court of appeals previously remanded this case to the district court to make findings as to whether any of the required notices were ever sent to Spohr. On remand, the Department presented no further information and the court found that the record remained unclear as to service.

On appeal, Spohr argued for the first time that he did not receive personal service of a notice of hearing on the petition for guardianship. As relevant to this case, the Colorado Probate Code requires personal service on the respondent of a notice of hearing on a petition for guardianship. The Probate Code would have allowed the appointment of an emergency guardian to be made without notice to Spohr only if the court found, based on testimony at the emergency hearing, that he would have been substantially harmed if the appointment were delayed. If the protected person was not present at the hearing, he must be given notice within 48 hours after the appointment. While the magistrate made this finding, the requisite notice within 48 hours of the appointment was never made.

The Probate Code does not contain provisions for how a transition is to be made from an emergency guardianship to a non-emergency guardianship. In the absence of such provision, the court concluded that after the 60-day limit on emergency guardianship, if a guardianship is still sought for the protected person, C.R.S. § 15-14-304, governing judicial appointment of a guardian on a non-emergency basis, must be followed. Among other requirements for this process, C.R.S. § 15-14-309(1) requires that a copy of the petition and notice of hearing on the petition must be served personally on the respondent. Further, the notice requirement is jurisdictional, and the lack of notice may therefore be raised at any time. Here, Spohr was not given notice within 48 hours after the appointment of his emergency guardian, nor did he waive notice of the appointment and the ability to request a hearing on the emergency guardian’s appointment. And the emergency guardian served long after 60 days had passed.

The record also fails to show that Spohr was provided with the required notice before his non-emergency guardianship. The failure to personally serve the respondent 14 days before the guardianship hearing is jurisdictional and respondent cannot waive service. Thus the court lacked jurisdiction to appoint a permanent guardian.

The judgment was vacated.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Bills Signed Enacting Uniform Trust Code, Creating Civil Rape Shield Law, Helping Preserve Family Units with Parents with Disabilities, and More

On Wednesday, April 25, 2018, Governor Hickenlooper signed nine bills into law. On Thursday, April 26, 2018, he signed five bills into law. To date, he has signed 183 bills and sent one bill to the Secretary of State without a signature. The bills signed Wednesday and Thursday include a bill enacting the Colorado Uniform Trust Code, a bill enacting a civil rape shield statute, a bill amending family preservation safeguards for parents with disabilities, a bill requiring free-standing emergency rooms to post certain consumer notices, and more. The bills signed Wednesday and Thursday are summarized here.

  • SB 18-071 – “Concerning an Extension of the Repeal of the State Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Cheri Jahn & Larry Crowder and Rep. Daneya Esgar. The state substance abuse trend and response task force is scheduled to be repealed effective July 1, 2018. The bill extends the repeal for 10 years to September 1, 2028.
  • SB 18-146 – “Concerning a Requirement that a Freestanding Emergency Department Inform a Person who is Seeking Medical Treatment about the Health Care Options that are Available to the Person, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. John Kefalas & Jim Smallwood and Reps. Lang Sias & Jonathan Singer. The bill requires a freestanding emergency department (FSED), whether operated by a hospital at a separate, off-campus location or operating independently of a hospital system, to provide any individual that enters the FSED seeking treatment a written statement of patient information, which an FSED staff member or health care provider must explain orally.
  • SB 18-154 – “Concerning a Requirement for a Local Juvenile Services Planning Committee to Devise a Plan to Manage Dually Identified Crossover Youth,” by Sen. Rhonda Fields and Rep. Joseph Salazar. The bill requires local juvenile services planning committees to devise a plan to manage dually identified crossover youth. A dually identified crossover youth is a youth involved in both the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system. The plan must contain descriptions and processes.
  • SB 18-169 – “Concerning Offenses Against Witnesses in Noncriminal Proceedings,” by Sen. Bob Gardner and Rep. Terri Carver. The clarifies that the offenses of intimidating a witness or victim and retaliation against a witness or victim apply to witnesses in criminal, civil, and administrative proceedings.
  • SB 18-180 – “Concerning the Colorado Uniform Trust Code,” by Sen. Bob Gardner and Reps. Cole Wist & Matt Gray. The bill enacts the Colorado Uniform Trust Code and repeals many sections of the Colorado Probate Code.
  • SB 18-187 – “Concerning Transferring Marijuana Fibrous Waste for the Purpose of Producing Industrial Fiber Products,” by Sens. Vicki Marble & Jack Tate and Rep. Jeni James Arndt. The bill gives the state licensing authority rule-making authority to address conditions under which a medical or retail marijuana licensee is authorized to transfer marijuana fibrous waste to a person for the purpose of producing only industrial fiber products.
  • HB 18-1104 – “Concerning Family Preservation Safeguards for Parents with Disabilities,” by Rep. Jessie Danielson and Sens. Dominick Moreno & Kent Lambert. The bill establishes that family protection safeguards for a parent or prospective parent with a disability are critical to family preservation and the best interests of the children of Colorado. These safeguards include that a parent’s disability must not serve as a basis for denial or restriction of parenting time or parental responsibilities in a domestic law proceeding, that a parent’s disability must not serve as a basis for denial of participation in a public or private adoption, or for denial of foster care or guardianship, and that the benefits of providing supportive parenting services must be considered by a court when determining parental responsibilities, parenting time, adoption placements, foster care, and guardianship.
  • HB 18-1132 – “Concerning the Amount that the Department of Corrections is Required to Reimburse a County or City and County for the Confinement and Maintenance in a Local Jail of any Person who is Sentenced to a Term of Imprisonment in a Correctional Facility,” by Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Sen. Larry Crowder. Under current law, the General Assembly establishes in its annual general appropriations bill the amount that the Department of Corrections is required to reimburse any county or city and county for a portion of the expenses and costs incurred by that county or city and county for the confinement and maintenance in a local jail of any person who is sentenced to a term of imprisonment in a correctional facility. The bill states that, to assist the General Assembly in determining such rate of reimbursement, each county and each city and county shall report to the joint budget committee the average cost of confining and maintaining persons in a local jail for more than 72 hours after each such person has been sentenced to the custody of the department.
  • HB 18-1147 – “Concerning the Continuation of the Regulation of People who Modify the Weather, and, in Connection Therewith, Implementing the Sunset Review Recommendations of the Department of Regulatory Agencies,” by Reps. Joann Ginal & Kim Ransom and Sen. Don Coram. The bill continues the regulation of people who modify the weather.
  • HB 18-1211 – “Concerning Controlling Medicaid Fraud,” by Reps. Cole Wist & Mike Foote and Sens. Irene Aguilar & Jim Smallwood. The bill establishes the medicaid fraud control unit in the department of law. The unit is responsible for investigation and prosecution of medicaid fraud and waste, as well as patient abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Prior to initiating a criminal prosecution, the unit must consult with the district attorney of the judicial district where the prosecution would be initiated.
  • HB 18-1237 – “Concerning the Continuation of the Requirements Regarding the Preparation of a Cost-Benefit Analysis as Administered by the Department of Regulatory Agencies, and, in Connection Therewith, Implementing the Recommendations Contained in the 2017 Sunset Report by the Department of Regulatory Agencies,” by Reps. Tracy Kraft-Tharp & Kevin Van Winkle and Sen. Tim Neville. The bill implements the recommendations of the Department of Regulatory Agencies’ sunset review and report on requirements and procedures regarding the preparation of a cost-benefit analysis.
  • HB 18-1243 – “Concerning Enactment of a Civil Rape Shield Law,” by Reps. Mike Foote & Cole Wist and Sens. Don Coram & Rhonda Fields. Under Colorado criminal law there is a rape shield law that presumes that evidence of a victim’s sexual conduct is irrelevant and not admissible except for evidence of the victim’s prior or subsequent sexual conduct with the defendant or evidence of specific instances of sexual activity showing the source or origin of semen, pregnancy, disease, or any similar evidence of sexual intercourse offered for the purpose of showing that the act or acts were or were not committed by the defendant. The bill creates a similar presumption in a civil proceeding involving alleged sexual misconduct. If a party wants to introduce sexual conduct evidence, it must file a confidential motion with the court at least 63 days prior to trial. Prior to ruling on the motion, the court shall conduct an in camera hearing and allow the parties and alleged victim to attend and be heard.
  • HB 18-1275 – “Concerning the Repeal of the Craig Hospital License Plate Donation Requirement,” by Rep. Jeff Bridges and Sen. Daniel Kagan. Current law requires an applicant to make a donation to Craig Hospital in order to be issued a special Craig Hospital license plate. The bill repeals the $20 donation requirement.
  • HB 18-1282 – “Concerning a Requirement that a Health Care Provider Include Certain Identifying Information on all Claims for Reimbursement for Health Care Services,” by Reps. Susan Lontine & Lang Sias and Sens. Jim Smallwood & John Kefalas. The bill requires an off-campus location of a hospital to apply for, obtain, and use on claims for reimbursement for health care services provided at the off-campus location a unique national provider identifier, commonly referred to as NPI. The off-campus location’s NPI must be used on all claims related to health care services provided at that location, regardless of whether the claim is filed through the hospital’s central billing or claims department or through a health care clearinghouse. It also requires all medicaid providers that are entities to obtain and use a unique NPI for each site at which they deliver services and for each provider type that the department of health care policy and financing has specified.

For a complete list of Governor Hickenlooper’s 2018 legislative decisions, click here.

Colorado Supreme Court: Trial Court Had Jurisdiction to Impose Constructive Trust where Sister Misspent Multi-party Funds

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Sandstead-Corona v. Sandstead on Monday, April 9, 2018.

Implied Trusts—Probate Jurisdiction—C.R.S. § 15-10-501—No-Contest Clause.

This case raised multiple issues arising from a dispute between two sisters concerning their mother’s estate and funds contained in a multi-party account alleged to be non-probate assets. The supreme court first held that pursuant to C.R.S. § 13-9-103(3)(b), the trial court had jurisdiction to resolve the dispute over the funds in the multi-party account and to impose a constructive trust if appropriate because the facts presented a question as to whether the funds were part of mother’s estate. The court further concluded that the trial court properly imposed a constructive trust over these funds because the sister who was the surviving signatory on the multi-party account was in a confidential relationship with her mother and her sister, and she abused that relationship when she misspent the funds. Next, the court held that because an implied trust is included in the fiduciary oversight statute’s definition of an “estate,” the trial court properly surcharged the sister who was the signatory on the multi-party  account because she had misused the funds in the implied trust. Finally, the court found that although a no-contest clause that was contained in mother’s revocable trust was incorporated by reference into her will, by its plain language, that clause applied only to actions contesting the trust, not challenges to the will. Accordingly, the court held that the trial court erred in enforcing the no-contest clause against the sister who challenged the will. The court of appeals’ judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prejudgment Interest is Form of Compensatory Damages and Is Confined to Policy Limits

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in White v. Estate of Soto-Lerma on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Probate—Prejudgment Interest Costs—Insurance Policy—Liability LimitsOffer of Settlement.

Plaintiff’s claim arose from a car accident that occurred about a year before decedent died from unrelated causes. More than two years after decedent’s death, plaintiff filed suit, asserting that decedent had been negligent. Decedent’s estate consisted solely of his automobile insurance policy, which had a policy limit of $50,000 per person injured. Defendant rejected plaintiff’s pretrial statutory offer of settlement for the insurance policy limit of $50,000. After trial, a jury awarded plaintiff $100,000 in damages. The court reduced the award to $50,000, but ultimately entered judgment for $79,218, which included $11,600 in costs and $17,618 in prejudgment interest.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred in awarding plaintiff prejudgment interest. C.R.S. § 15-12-803(1)(a) bars all claims against a decedent’s estate that arose before the decedent’s death and were not presented within the statutory time frame. It was undisputed that plaintiff’s claim was not timely presented. C.R.S. § 15-12-803(3)(b) states that nothing prevents a proceeding to establish decedent’s liability to the limits of his insurance protection. This statute conflicts with C.R.S. § 13-21-101(1), which requires a court to award prejudgment interest. The court of appeals concluded that prejudgment interest is part of the underlying liability claim against an estate and is therefore subject to the insurance policy limits and the C.R.S. § 15-12-803(3)(b) bar on claims above that limit. C.R.S. § 15-12-803 bars an award of prejudgment interest above defendant’s $50,000 policy limit.

Plaintiff cross-appealed the judgment, arguing that the court should have entered judgment for the jury’s $100,000 damages award plus corresponding costs and prejudgment interest. Plaintiff contended that regardless of whether she could collect the jury award from defendant’s insurance company, judgment in excess of the policy limits was proper to leave open the possibility that plaintiff could be assigned the right to bring a bad faith claim against defendant’s insurer. The statutory language is clear that any untimely liability claim in excess of policy limits is barred.

Defendant also argued it was error to award costs in the final judgment, because such an award ignores the bar on claims in excess of insurance policy limits. Plaintiff argued for costs only under C.R.S. § 13-17-202, which provides that a plaintiff must be awarded costs only if the final judgment exceeds the settlement offer. Given that the final judgment did not and could not exceed the policy limit, which was also the amount of the settlement offer, plaintiff was not entitled to costs under C.R.S. § 13-17-202 and the trial court erred in entering a costs judgment above the policy limit.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for entry of judgment for plaintiff in the amount of $50,000.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Guardian Who Diverted Assets for his Own Family Subject to Treble Damages

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of Black on Thursday, January 25, 2018.

Probate—Disability—Conservator—Fiduciary Duty—Conflict of Interest—Jurisdiction—Civil Theft.

Black is the former conservator for his mentally-ill sister, Joanne. When he filed his petition to be appointed conservator, he did not tell the probate court that he sought the appointment to disclaim Joanne’s interest in payable-on-death (POD) assets so that they could be redistributed in accordance with his and his children’s expectations of his mother’s estate plan. Nor did he disclose this conflict of interest when he requested authorization to disclaim Joanne’s assets. Black later admitted this conflict. The probate court found that Black breached his fiduciary duties and committed civil theft by converting his sister’s assets for his own benefit. Specifically, the court concluded that Black failed to adequately disclose his intent to use a disclaimer to divest his sister of one-third of the (POD) assets, and therefore did not have the court’s authorization to redirect the assets. The court determined that his actions were undertaken in bad faith and satisfied the elements of civil theft. Based on its findings, the court surcharged Black in the amount of the converted funds and then trebled those damages under the civil theft statute.

On appeal, Black first argued that the probate court lacked jurisdiction to enter the hearing order because only a C.R.C.P. 60(b) motion, and not a motion to void the disclaimer, could undo the court’s order authorizing the disclaimer. However, the motion to void the disclaimer did not seek relief from a final order. Instead, the motion alleged that Black had breached his fiduciary duties to Joanne while acting as conservator, and it sought to unwind a transaction based on this breach. Thus, the probate court’s jurisdiction was based on the court’s authority to monitor fiduciaries over whom it has obtained jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court had jurisdiction to adjudicate the allegations and issues raised by the motion to void the disclaimer. Additionally, Black had sufficient notice of the proceedings.

Black next argued that he could not have breached his fiduciary duty to Joanne because his conversion of one-third of her POD assets was disclosed to and approved by the probate court in accordance with C.R.S. § 15-14-423. C.R.S. § 15-14-423 allows a fiduciary to engage in a conflicted transaction only when the fiduciary has disclosed the conflict of interest and demonstrated that the conflicted transaction is nonetheless reasonable and fair to the protected person. Black received authority to transfer the POD funds to a Supplemental Needs Trust (SNT) for Joanne’s benefit. Instead, he redistributed the POD funds two-thirds to the SNT and one-third to the Issue Trust, which benefited himself and his children. Because Black did not disclose the conflict of interest or demonstrate that this proposed redistribution was reasonable or fair, he did not have safe harbor under the statute. Thus, the probate court did not err in finding that Black breached his fiduciary duties.

Next, Black contended that the probate court erred in finding him liable for civil theft, arguing that the probate court lacked jurisdiction over the claim; the claim was time-barred; and that, in any event, the evidence was insufficient to establish civil theft. The civil theft claim is coterminous with the breach of fiduciary duty claim and thus directly related to Black’s duties as conservator. The probate court had jurisdiction over the civil theft claim, of which Black had notice. The record amply supports that the civil theft claim was timely asserted. As to the sufficiency of the evidence, Black did not dispute that he obtained control over Joanne’s assets with the intent to permanently deprive her of them; he disputed only the probate court’s finding of deception. The record supports the probate court’s finding that Black made misrepresentations or misleading statements or that he concealed material facts. When a conservator allegedly commits theft from a protected person by deception on the probate court, reliance is established if that court relied on the misrepresentation in authorizing the theft. Here, the court relied on Black’s misrepresentations in authorizing the disclaimer, and it would not have authorized the transaction had it known the true facts. The evidence was sufficient to support the finding that Black committed civil theft.

Black also contended that reversal is required because the probate court committed a series of errors that made the evidentiary hearing unfair. The court of appeals was unpersuaded by these arguments.

Lastly, Black contended that the court erred in concluding that he lacked authority to create a separate trust for Joanne’s workers’ compensation and Social Security disability benefits. The court discerned no error.

Joanne cross-appealed, contending that the court erred by failing to make explicit findings denying her request to void the disclaimer. The court did not abuse its discretion in imposing a surcharge rather than ordering that the disclaimer transaction be unwound.

The order was affirmed and the case was remanded for determination of reasonable appellate attorney fees.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Frank Hill Honored with Richard N. Doyle CLE Award of Excellence

On Monday, December 4, 2017, CLE hosted its annual Faculty and Author Thank You Reception. The Richard N. Doyle CLE Award of Excellence was presented to Frank T. Hill, a solo practitioner from Lakewood. Frank Hill has been a stalwart member of the CBA’s Trust and Estate Section since his admission to practice in 1973. Frank has been active on the Orange Book Forms Committee and Rules and Forms Committee of the CBA Trust and Estate Section for many years. He welcomes all attorneys to the meetings, treating the newest attorneys with the same dignity and respect as he treats his long-standing colleagues. He is kind and humble, frequently referring to himself as the “committee curmudgeon,” but he is intelligent and thoughtful, and he gracefully guides committee discussions while demonstrating the utmost respect for his peers.

Frank was instrumental in the redesign of the CLE publication, Orange Book Forms: Colorado Estate Planning Forms. He redesigned the book in order to help educate lawyers from the moment they open the book. He altruistically donated his time and energy to the redesign with the hope that it would be useful to the attorneys of tomorrow.

Frank is also a frequent speaker at CLE programs, and will be presenting at Friday’s “Orange Book Forms” program, in which all attendees receive a copy of the book as their course materials. He has also presented at Trust & Estate Retreats and many of the spring and fall Trust & Estate Updates. He is a fixture at CLE, and we are honored to be able to present him with the Richard N. Doyle CLE Award of Excellence for 2017.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Payment Obligation Under Marital Agreement Terminates at Death of Either Party

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Estate of Williams on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Dissolution of Marriage—Premarital Agreement—Separation Agreement—Maintenance—Estate.

Husband and wife executed a premarital agreement providing that husband would pay wife “during her lifetime” and wife would be entitled to receive from husband “during her lifetime” monthly payments on the filing of a petition for dissolution. In exchange for the monthly payments, wife waived maintenance. Husband and wife’s marriage ended in 1996, and husband consistently made monthly payments to wife under their separation agreement until his death. When husband’s estate refused to continue making the payments, wife filed the underlying action. The district court ruled that the premarital and separation agreements obligated the estate to continue making the monthly payments to wife until her death or remarriage. The court also awarded wife attorney fees and costs under the prevailing party provisions of the agreements.

On appeal, the estate contended that the district court erred in ruling that husband’s obligation under the premarital and separation agreements to make monthly payments to wife survived his death as an obligation of his estate. The premarital and separation agreements reflect agreement regarding the duration of the monthly payments relative to the life or marital status of the wife, but say nothing about what would happen on husband’s death. The separation agreement also released the parties and their estates from claims and demands. Therefore, husband’s personal obligation to pay ended when he died, absent a clear indication to the contrary, which neither the premarital nor separation agreement provided.

The estate also contended that the district court erroneously awarded wife attorney fees and costs and that it should have been awarded its own attorney fees under the prevailing party provisions of the agreements. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed.

The order and judgments were reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Within Discretion to Impose Surcharge in Protective Proceeding

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Becker v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. on Thursday, August 24, 2017.

Aaron Becker was the conservator on an account set up for his daughter after she was the beneficiary of settlement funds from a personal injury claim. The trial court’s order to set up the restricted account specified that “no funds could be withdrawn from the account except by ‘separate certified order of this court.'” However, due to a “coding error,” Wells Fargo failed to set up the account as a restricted account. The account balance was $56,642.46 as reported in August 2013. Wells Fargo allowed Becker to make unauthorized withdrawals until the balance was negative, then closed the account.

The trial court issued an order to show cause in August 2016 to both Wells Fargo and Becker regarding the withdrawn funds. At the show cause hearing, Becker testified that he used the funds for his personal expenses, as well as to pay rent, groceries, utilities, sports activities expenses, and other expenses for the beneficiary. The court ordered Becker to file an accounting of how the funds were used from August 2013 until the account was closed. He agreed to do so, but never filed the accounting.

The court ordered Becker and Wells Fargo to restore to the account the last amount reported and found them jointly and severally liable for breach of fiduciary duty. The court ordered Wells Fargo to restore $56,642.46 to a new restricted account. 

Wells Fargo appealed, arguing the court should have apportioned liability per C.R.S. § 13-21-111.5. Wells Fargo also requested a hearing to determine the amount of the funds used to benefit the protected person so as not to afford her a double recovery. The trial court denied Wells Fargo’s motion.

On appeal, the court of appeals disagreed with Wells Fargo that C.R.S. § 13-21-111.5 applied, ruling instead that the court properly determined that it was a surcharge action under C.R.S. §§ 15-10-501 to -504. The court noted that the trial court had authority to impose a surcharge on Wells Fargo for failing to correct its error. The court of appeals agreed with Wells Fargo, however, that requiring the bank to restore the full amount of the settlement funds could potentially result in an impermissible double recovery to the protected person, and remanded for a determination of how the conservatorship funds were spent.

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Has Broad Jurisdiction Over Any Matter Essential to Resolving Probate Estate

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Estate of Owens on Thursday, April 20, 2017.

EstateJurisdictionConstructive TrustTestamentary CapacityUndue InfluenceJury TrialContempt.

Dr. Arlen E. Owens (the decedent) hired Dominguez as his private caregiver in 2010. The decedent died in July 2013. After the decedent’s death, his brother and only living heir, Owens, filed a petition for informal probate of the decedent’s will, and later a petition for determination of testacy and for determination of heirs, alleging that the will that the decedent had signed in 2012 was the product of undue influence by Dominguez and that the decedent had lacked the capacity to execute the will. He also filed a complaint for recovery of estate assets and asked the court to invalidate the will and order the decedent’s estate to be administered under intestate distribution statutes. In 2015, Owens also filed a petition to set aside non-probate transfers for three bank accounts for which Dominguez was payable-on-death (POD) beneficiary. The court imposed a constructive trust over the POD accounts. The court later upheld the will but found that the decedent had not had the capacity to execute the POD designations and had been unduly influenced by Dominguez. After issuance of the final judgment, the court issued a contempt order against Dominguez for violating the constructive trust that included the condition that she could purge the contempt by paying back the money from the bank accounts.

On appeal, Dominguez contended that the district court did not have jurisdiction to set aside the POD designations and impose a constructive trust on the POD accounts because Owens and the estate did not have standing to make such requests. A district court has jurisdiction to determine every legal and equitable question arising in connection with estates. The claims regarding the POD designations arose in connection with and were essential to the estate administration. Thus, the court had jurisdiction to impose a constructive trust, Owens had standing, and the court had jurisdiction to resolve the issues surrounding the POD designations.

Dominguez next asserted that the district court erred when it determined that the decedent had not had the testamentary capacity to designate Dominguez as beneficiary of the POD accounts and that Dominguez had unduly influenced the decedent to designate her as beneficiary of the three accounts. However, the record supports the court’s factual findings and its assessment of the credibility of each witness, and the court of appeals did not displace the district court’s conclusions.

Dominguez next argued that the district court erred when it prevented her from exercising her right to a jury trial. Because Dominguez had the opportunity to exercise her right to a jury trial and failed to do so, she waived her claims to such right.

Dominguez also contended that the district court erred in concluding that the existence of nonliquid assets can be the basis for determining that a contemnor has the present ability to pay. Here, Dominguez could not provide a coherent, consistent account of what had happened to the funds in the POD accounts. The contempt order was supported by analysis of evidence on the record. Thus, the court did not err in holding Dominguez in contempt.

The court of appeals also concluded that neither party was entitled to attorney fees.

The judgments were affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Attorney Fee Award Appropriate Where Claims Lacked Substantial Justification

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Estate of Shimizu on Thursday, November 3, 2016.

Decedent—Deed–Undue Influence—Lack of Capacity—Attorney Fees—Groundless—Vexatious—C.R.S. § 13-17-102.

Decedent died intestate and was survived by his half-sister, Szoke. Szoke challenged the validity of a deed that decedent had executed near the end of his life. In that deed, decedent purported to convey his house to three of his close friends (the recipients). The probate court rejected Szoke’s claims, finding the recipients’ case far more persuasive because it was based on evidence from persons who had direct contact with decedent near or at the time the deed was executed, and not all of whom were interested in the outcome of the case. The court also determined that the recipients were entitled to an award of attorney fees under C.R.S. § 13-17-102 because Szoke’s claims “lacked substantial justification” and were “groundless, in that she presented valid theories of undue influence and lack of capacity, but offered little or nothing to support those claims.” The probate court awarded the recipients attorney fees.

On appeal, Szoke contended that the probate court erroneously awarded attorney fees to the recipients under C.R.S. § 13-17-102. The probate court found that Szoke’s claims were “groundless” because she did not present much evidence to support her claims, and the court did not believe her evidence in light of the recipients’ evidence. Based on the evidence presented by Szoke, a reasonable fact finder could have found undue influence and lack of capacity. Because Szoke presented some credible evidence in support of her claims, her claims were not sanctionable as groundless under C.R.S. § 13-17-102. On the other hand, although the trial court did not explicitly characterize Szoke’s action as “vexatious,” that was the gist of its findings and conclusions. Because the court’s findings are supported by the record, the court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees for conduct that was “stubbornly litigious, or disrespectful of the truth,” and, thus, “substantially vexatious.”

The award of attorney fees was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Evidence Insufficient to Support Involuntary Administration of Medication

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of R.K.L. on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Involuntary Administration of Medication—Due Process—Clear and Convincing Evidence.

On request of the People, R.K.L., a/k/a A.J.J., was found to be mentally ill and a danger to others and gravely disabled, and was certified to Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan for short-term treatment for a period not to exceed three months. The probate court also authorized involuntary administration for 11 requested antipsychotic medications. Before the expiration of that order, the People filed a notice extending the certification for treatment for an additional three months and a motion to extend the involuntary medication order. The probate court, following a hearing, extended the certification for short-term treatment and granted the motion for continued involuntary administration authority for the requested medications.

A.J.J. appealed both orders. He conceded that the People had established by clear and convincing evidence that he has a mental illness and that he has not voluntarily accepted treatment. He argued that the court erred in finding that the People proved by clear and convincing evidence that he is a danger to others or gravely disabled. The Court of Appeals held that the probate court’s finding that A.J.J. is a danger to others was supported by evidence in the record. Alternatively, the Court found sufficient evidence in the record to support the probate court’s findings by clear and convincing evidence that A.J.J was gravely disabled as a result of his mental illness. Sufficient evidence supports the probate court’s orders upholding the certification and extended certification of A.J.J. for short-term treatment.

To involuntarily administer antipsychotic medication without violating a patient’s due process rights, all four elements set forth in People v. Medina, 705 P.2d 961, 973 (Colo. 1985), must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. The Court found that the evidence did not support the probate court’s findings as to two of these elements regarding involuntary administration of 10 of the medications, but the evidence was sufficient to support the administration of one medication. The Court agreed with A.J.J. that the evidence did not support the court’s findings that (1) the People had established by clear and convincing evidence that there was no less intrusive alternative than administering the 10 antipsychotics and (2) A.J.J.’s need for treatment with the 10 antipsychotic medications overrode his bona fide and legitimate interest in refusing this treatment.

The orders were reversed to the extent that they authorized involuntary administration of 10 antipsychotics and affirmed in all other respects.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.