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Trask v. Trask

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

September 12, 2018



          Jensen Young & Houston, PLLC, by: Perry Y. Young, for appellant.

          Smith, Cohen & Horan, PLC, by: Matthew T. Horan, for appellee/ cross-appellant James Trask.


         The parties' dispute in this probate case involves a family-settlement agreement executed after the death of Lavon Carroll, appellant Jeffrey Trask's mother and appellee James Trask's grandmother. On appeal, Jeffrey assigns error to the circuit court's failure to enforce the agreement and to its alleged modification thereof. On cross-appeal, James, Jeffrey's nephew, argues that the family-settlement agreement is invalid and unenforceable. We affirm on direct appeal; we dismiss the cross-appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

         Lavon Carroll passed away on September 28, 2014, leaving four grown children: Robert Trask, Jr., Karen Copeland, Jeffrey Trask, and Spencer Trask. Robert, a resident of Texas, passed away on January 19, 2015, several months after his mother's death.[1] Ms. Carroll left a will, pursuant to which she left her household furnishings and appliances to her husband and all the "rest, residue and remainder" of her estate to the trustee of the Lavon Carroll Trust (the "Trust") to be held subject to the terms and conditions therein. Although a copy of the Trust is not included in the record on appeal, the parties agree that it divides Ms. Carroll's assets into four equal shares, one for each of her children. The parties also agree that the Trust provides that upon Robert's death, his share of the Trust passed to his descendants, James and Todd Trask. Ms. Copeland was appointed as executrix of the Estate of Lavon Carroll (the "Carroll Estate"). Jeffrey Trask was trustee of the Trust.

         Ms. Copeland filed an inventory, accounting, and amended accounting, requesting the court for authority to make a final distribution, for fees, and for closure of the Carroll Estate. Jeffrey, as trustee of the residuary beneficiary of the will, objected to the inventory and accounting as incomplete and to the request to close the Estate as premature. Ms. Copeland filed a second amended accounting, and the parties exchanged discovery from 2016 through early 2017. In March 2017, a family-settlement agreement resolving these issues was executed by Jeffrey, individually and as trustee and beneficiary of the Trust; Karen Copeland, individually, as beneficiary of the Trust, and as administratrix of the Carroll Estate; Spencer Trask, as beneficiary of the Trust; and Vicki Trask, as administratrix of the Estate of Robert Trask, Jr., beneficiary of the Trust. The agreement stated that they had resolved their disputes regarding the inclusion and disposition of certain assets and the payment of certain expenses "subject to approval by James E. Trask and Todd Robert Trask as contingent beneficiaries of the Lavon Carroll Family Trust, and/or the So-Ordering thereof by the Saline County Probate Court as presented, or as may be modified by it upon hearing." Of particular import to the dispute on appeal, Vicki agreed in the family-settlement agreement to deliver to Jeffrey certain items in her possession. It is the possession and ownership of these items that is at the heart of the parties' dispute. The items include two Waterford crystal glasses, a bookcase that Ms. Carroll allegedly gave to Robert ten years before her death, several paintings, Robert's bronzed baby shoes, juice glasses, Christmas plates, and various other items that the parties agree have little financial value.

         The circuit court entered a consent order on March 28, 2017, approving the family-settlement agreement and stating that the parties in possession of the personal property listed in the agreement "will deliver it to the State of Arkansas" for sale. The court also stated the following regarding James and Todd Trask:

The attached Stipulation of Settlement appears reasonable on the facts presented in the various pleadings. Notwithstanding, the Court recognizes the legal distinction between the two sons of Robert Trask, Jr., deceased, as contingent beneficiaries of the Lavon Carroll Family Trust and the Estate of Robert Trask, Jr. Given that distinction, James E. Trask and Todd Robert Trask, who are not signatories hereto but are beneficiaries of the Estate of Robert Trask, Jr., and impacted by the outcome hereof, are entitled to notice and an opportunity to object in their individual capacities. To that end, each shall have ten (10) business days following service hereof and of the attached Stipulation to file and serve any objection they may have hereto, whereupon an evidentiary hearing on notice will be set by the Court for presentation of evidence supporting the relief agreed to and any facts supporting such persons' objections thereto.

         On April 11, 2017, the attorney for James and Todd entered an appearance on their behalf. According to Vicki's testimony, James subsequently called her and told her that the items in her possession "were his grandmother's, that they belong to Todd and him, and that he was sending movers to pick them up." On April 16, 2017, Vicki gave the items to Clear Lake Movers, who picked them up for James. On April 21, 2017, James and Todd filed an "Objection to Proposed Family Settlement Agreement" alleging that Texas law required the joint consent of James and Vicki to bind Robert's estate. They also alleged that Vicki was not a beneficiary of the Trust, that she had no economic interest in further distributions from the Trust since the distributions would go not to Robert's estate but directly to James and Todd, and that James and Todd were necessary parties to any family-settlement agreement. They requested an evidentiary hearing.

         The circuit court held a hearing on May 24, 2017, regarding their objection to the family-settlement agreement. At the hearing, their attorney argued that the agreement was not binding on them because James and Vicki were coadministrators of Robert's estate, and thus both must have signed the agreement on its behalf. They claimed that Vicki and James had agreed in their application for coadministration that all decisions relating to the estate must be made jointly and therefore that Vicki did not have the authority to act independently. Jeffrey's attorney introduced a copy of the Texas probate court's order, which did not include the requirement that all decisions be made jointly and appeared to allow either Vicki or James independently to bind the estate. The court entered an order on June 2, 2017, finding that Vicki had the apparent and actual authority to bind Robert's estate and overruled James and Todd's objection. The court ordered that the family-settlement agreement "shall be carried out and performed by the parties with all reasonable haste."

         On July 10, 2017, Ms. Copeland, as personal representative of the Carroll Estate, filed an "Emergency Petition for Order of Immediate Delivery and Petition to Show Cause" alleging that the court had overruled the objection of James and Todd to the family- settlement agreement and that James had removed the items the agreement required Vicki to return to the Carroll Estate. She asked the court to enter an order requiring James to personally appear and show cause why he should not be held in contempt of the June 2, 2017, order. She also asked the court to compel immediate delivery of the items.

         On July 13, 2017, James and Todd filed an objection to the court's June 2 order pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 28-1-116(d), [2] alleging that an enforceable contract existed between Vicki and James that required them both to consent to any action taken on behalf of Robert's estate; that even if Vicki had authority to bind the estate independently, the Estate of Robert Trask had no interest in the Carroll Estate, and, therefore, Robert's estate had no standing to enter into the family-settlement agreement; that Robert's share of the Trust passed to his descendants, James and Todd, upon his death; and that they were denied due process by not being served with notice and the opportunity to participate in all proceedings and negotiations regarding the family-settlement agreement.

         On July 17, 2017, James and Todd responded to the Carroll Estate's petition for order of immediate delivery and to show cause. They alleged that they had made a limited appearance to object to the family-settlement agreement and that the court did not have personal jurisdiction over them because they had not been served. They alleged that the family-settlement agreement spoke for itself but that they were not parties to that agreement and had no obligations arising from it. Finally, they contended that they intended to appeal from the June 2, 2017, decision of the court upon entry of a final order of ...

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