Author Archives: Will Sleeth

Will Sleeth

About: Will Sleeth

Will Sleeth serves as the editor of the Estate Conflicts blog, and is the leader of the firm’s Estate and Trust Litigation practice area team, a nationwide team composed of over a dozen attorneys focusing on disputes involving wills, trusts, guardianships, conservatorships, powers of attorney, and elder law matters. Primarily based out of the firm’s Williamsburg and Richmond offices, Will represents clients all throughout Virginia and the nation.

Virginia Has A New Standard For Undue Influence In Will Contest Cases

Beginning July 1, 2022, Virginia has a new standard for undue influence in Will contest cases. For most Will contest cases in Virginia, the standard for undue influence will now involve a presumption that undue influence was exerted over the decedent (the deceased person). This is a profound change from the current (pre-July, 2022) state of the law (which merely created a temporary presumption that was extremely easy to overcome), and it will make it much easier to contest the validity of a Will in Virginia. Text of the New Law In the 2022 session, the General Assembly adopted Senate …

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When Does a Trust Become Irrevocable? At the Settlor’s Death, or Upon the Settlor’s Loss of Capacity? Hunter v. Hunter’s Discussion of the Concept

This post is part 7 in our 7-part series on the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling in Hunter v. Hunter (Record No. 190260). Today we focus on the opinion’s discussion of the issue of when a trust becomes irrevocable. Is it upon the death of the settlor (the person who created the trust)? Or at the time when the settlor loses the capacity to revoke the trust? You can find parts 1-6 of the series at the following links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6. For better or for worse, the Virginia Supreme Court did …

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Posted in Court Opinions, No Contest Clause, Trust Disputes \ Comments Off on When Does a Trust Become Irrevocable? At the Settlor’s Death, or Upon the Settlor’s Loss of Capacity? Hunter v. Hunter’s Discussion of the Concept

No Contest Clauses and Challenges to Beneficiary Designations, Account Titlings, Gifts, or Powers of Attorney: Hunter v. Hunter’s Discussion of the Concept

This post is part 6 in our 7-part series on the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling in Hunter v. Hunter (Record No. 190260). Today we focus on the opinion’s discussion of the concept of a no contest clause “seeking to seal the courthouse doors to a litigant.” You can find parts 1-5 of the series at the following links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. In the Hunter opinion, the Virginia Supreme Court stated: “To begin, we have never addressed (much less approved) a no-contest provision seeking to seal the courthouse doors to a litigant seeking …

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Trustee Accounting Requirements and Duties in Virginia: Hunter v. Hunter’s Discussion of the Concept

This post is part 5 in our 7-part series on the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling in Hunter v. Hunter (Record No. 190260). Today we focus on the opinion’s discussion of the legal duties in Virginia of a trustee to “inform and report” and provide accountings to a trust beneficiary. You can find parts 1-4 of the series at the following links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Virginia law contains several sources of law that may apply with respect to a trustee’s duty to provide an accounting or to “inform and report” to a trust beneficiary.

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“Gift Over” and No Contest Clauses: Hunter v. Hunter’s Discussion of the Concept

This post is part 4 in our 7-part series on the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling in Hunter v. Hunter (Record No. 190260). Today we focus on the opinion’s discussion of the “gift over” rule and how that rule relates to a no contest clause. You can find parts 1-3 of the series at the following links: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. The “gift over” rule relates to what type of language a no contest clause must contain in order to be legally effective. English and early American courts required that in order for a no contest clause to …

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No Contest Clauses Protecting Fiduciary Misconduct: Hunter v. Hunter’s Discussion of the Concept

This post is part 3 in our 7-part series on the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling in Hunter v. Hunter (Record No. 190260). Today we focus on an extremely important portion of the ruling that discussed concerns about how expansively-worded no contest clauses could protect unscrupulous trustees. To my knowledge, this is the first time that this concept has ever been addressed in a written opinion interpreting Virginia law, so this is a very significant development. For years, we’ve written on this blog about the dangers that increasingly-broadly-worded no contest clauses pose. The concern lies, in short, in the fact that …

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No Contest Clauses Are Strictly Construed: Hunter v. Hunter’s Discussion of the Concept

In Hunter v. Hunter (Record No. 190260), the Virginia Supreme Court devoted nearly a page of its opinion to discussing how no contest clauses in Virginia are strictly construed. Its discussion contains some new language that may prove to be helpful to litigants on this issue. In this second part of a seven-part series of blog posts on the Hunter case, we examine the implications of the Court’s discussion of this issue (note: part one of the series can be found here.

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Virginia Supreme Court Issues Significant New Decision on No Contest Clauses (Hunter v. Hunter)

The Virginia Supreme Court recently handed down one of the most significant trust and estate litigation opinions in years. In the unanimous ruling in Hunter v. Hunter (Record No. 190260), the Court (for the first time) expressly approved of an alternative-pleading model whereby a trust beneficiary may first seek a declaratory judgment as to whether a proposed claim would trigger a no contest clause, and obtain a ruling on that threshold question, before deciding whether to proceed with the prosecution of the claim. Full disclosure: I litigated the Hunter case on behalf of the successful appellant, both at the trial …

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Estate Litigation Predictions for 2020

As we make our way into a new year, it’s a good time to ask what trends we’re likely to see in 2020 in the world of estate litigation. Three main trends stand out in my mind: litigation over increasingly broad no contest clauses, an increase in contested guardianship and conservatorship litigation, and the advent of litigation over electronic wills. Litigation Over Increasingly Broad No Contest Clauses I predict that in 2020, we’ll see increased litigation over the scope and enforceability of no contest clauses, also referred to as in terrorem clauses. In short, no contest clauses are provisions contained …

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Posted in Court Opinions, Guardianship/Conservatorship Proceedings, New Laws, No Contest Clause \ Comments Off on Estate Litigation Predictions for 2020

Virginia Supreme Court Issues New Ruling Regarding Commissioner of Accounts

Last month, the Virginia Supreme Court handed down a new ruling that confirms that circuit courts lack the authority to delegate final authority to approve accountings to the Commissioner of Accounts. While this ruling (in Moni Henderson v. Stephanie P. Cook, Trustee and Conservator for Thomas E. Noojin, Record No. 180772) doesn’t necessarily break new legal ground, it does provide a helpful overview of the law relating to the process by which the Commissioner of Accounts reviews accountings subject to the circuit court’s final review of the accountings.

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