CATHERINE MEYER, as beneficiary of the 1999 Carlsen Family Living Trust, Appellant (Plaintiff),
SARA MILLER, Trustee of the 1999 Carlsen Family Living Trust, Appellee (Defendant)
Appeal from the District Court of Park County. The Honorable Steven R. Cranfill, Judge.
Representing Appellant: M. Jalie Meinecke of Meinecke & Sitz, LLC, Cody, Wyoming.
Representing Appellee: Tracy J. Copenhaver of Copenhaver, Kath, Kitchen & Kolpitcke, LLC, Powell, Wyoming.
Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, KITE[*], DAVIS, and FOX, JJ.
[¶1] Appellant Catherine Meyer is a beneficiary of her parents' trust, and she brought an action against the trustee challenging the validity of certain amendments to it after her mother Evelyn Carlsen died. Mrs. Carlsen, who was a settlor and also served as trustee, amended the trust on two separate occasions before she passed away, as she was permitted to do by its terms. Appellant, who will receive less upon her mother's death because of these amendments, contends they are invalid for two reasons. First, the amendments were intended to collect a debt and therefore violate the Statute of Frauds. Second, Mrs. Carlsen was unduly influenced to amend the trust by her other daughters. The district court granted the Appellee successor trustee summary judgment. We find no disputed issues of material fact and that the trustee was entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and we therefore affirm.
[¶2] 1. Were the amendments to the trust invalid because they violated the Statute of Frauds?
2. Are there disputed issues of material fact as to whether Mrs. Carlsen's daughters procured the amendments through the exercise of undue influence?
[¶3] In 1999, Mr. and Mrs. Carlsen established the 1999 Carlsen Family Living Trust, naming their five daughters, Appellant Catherine Meyer, Sara Miller, Carol Carlsen, Jean Cedarquist, and Roberta Nemeth, as beneficiaries. However, the trust reserved extensive powers to Mr. and Mrs. Carlsen during their lives. They had the right to use the trust assets as they chose, and the power to amend or revoke the trust if they elected to do so. The remaining trust assets were to be distributed to the five daughters in equal shares by Sara Miller, the successor trustee, when both of the Carlsens had died.
[¶4] The trust was drafted by the Carlsens' attorney Dick Kahl, who was also their friend and neighbor. The trust remained unchanged for ten years after the Carlsens executed it. Mr. Carlsen passed away during this time frame, and Mrs. Carlsen became the sole trustee and surviving settlor.
[¶5] At some point during the ten years after the trust was executed, Appellant convinced her mother to invest approximately $40,000.00 of its assets with a broker friend, and unfortunately, that investment shrank to approximately $20,000.00. As early as 2006, Mrs. Carlsen began telling others that she had expressed her frustration about the loss to Appellant, who would be responsible for it.
[¶6] In the summer of 2008, Mrs. Carlsen visited three daughters who lived in Illinois. She visited Appellant for several days
first, and then she stayed with her other daughter, Jean. Mrs. Carlson told Jean and another daughter Roberta that Appellant had said that the loss could be dealt with through inheritance. Jean and Roberta told their mother that it was not an issue they could address, and that she would have to deal with it through her attorney. Mrs. Carlsen asked the two to help her prepare notes reflecting her thoughts to share with attorney Kahl. Roberta put the notes in a letter to Mr. Kahl, which Mrs. Carlsen signed. Jean and Roberta told Mrs. Carlsen that she did not have to make any changes to the trust and could just leave it as originally drafted as far as they were concerned. Whether their mother wanted to follow up with her attorney was entirely up to her, in their view.
[¶7] Mrs. Carlsen returned to her home in Powell, Wyoming after the Illinois visit. She did not discuss amending the trust with her daughters again before she met with Mr. Kahl and executed the first amendment half a year later. Before meeting with Mr. Kahl, Mrs. Carlsen was seen by her medical doctor Terry Reisner on January 26, 2009, for a checkup related to her diabetes. During this checkup, Mrs. Carlsen did not show any signs of mental confusion, and Dr. Reisner did not have any concerns about her mental faculties.
[¶8] In February 2009, Mrs. Carlsen met with Mr. Kahl to discuss changes to the trust, and that meeting resulted in the First Amendment to Declaration of Trust: 1999 Carlsen Family Living Trust dated February 27, 2009. This first amendment modified the trust's terms so that " [p]rior to any other distribution under the terms of the Trust, my daughter, Catherine Meyer, shall pay to the Trust, the sum of $20,000.00, an amount owed by her to my Trust." Mr. Kahl confirmed by a later affidavit ...