Fourth DCA Reverses and Remands Probate Court’s Distribution of Trust

Darian v. Weymouth
Case No. 4D10-550

Andrew Darian, personal representative of the estate of his father, James E. Hughes, and trustee of the James E. Hughes Living Trust, appeals a final summary judgment entered in favor of Elizabeth Ann Weymouth, personal representative of the estate of her mother, Martha Mayfield Hughes where the probate court awarded Mrs. Hughes’ interest in the Trust to her estate. James E. Hughes and Martha Mayfield were married in 1999. In August of the following year, James executed the James E. Hughes Living Trust Agreement in compliance with the parties’ prenuptial agreement. The Trust made provisions for disposition of Hughes’ estate upon his death. His will was a pour-over will that expressly incorporated the terms of the James E. Hughes Living Trust. The Trust did not specifically indicate what was to be done with the property bequeathed to Martha in the event that James survived Martha. On September 3, 2004, James and Martha Hughes were shot and killed by Martha’s adopted son from a prior marriage. Both died as a result of gunshot wounds to the head. Because the coroner was unable to determine which spouse predeceased the other, the probate court deemed their deaths to be simultaneous and entered an order to that effect in the probate of Mr. Hughes’ estate. Accordingly, Mr. Hughes’ property was to be disposed of as if he survived Mrs. Hughes. The probate court ruled that Mrs. Hughes’ interest, under the Hughes Trust, vested upon the creation of the Trust and did not lapse upon her death. Andrew Darian appealed.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the probate court’s ruling and found that no sufficient event existed to vest Mrs. Hughes’ interest in the Trust prior to her husband’s death. The Fourth noted that Mr. Hughes was the sole trustee and beneficiary under the Trust during his life. Mrs. Hughes was among the contingent residual beneficiaries whose interest came into creation only upon the death of Mr. Hughes and who were entitled to distribution of the then remaining corpus of the trust. Because it was judicially determined that Mrs. Hughes predeceased her husband, her interest in the Trust lapsed upon her death.