CLYDE V. SNELL, Trustee of the Imogene Snell Revocable Trust dated November 16, 1993, Appellant (Defendant),
WILLIAM R. SNELL, Appellee (Plaintiff).
Appeal from the District Court of Johnson County The Honorable William J. Edelman, Judge
Representing Appellant: Drake D. Hill of Hill Law Firm, LLC, Cheyenne, Wyoming; Tonia Hanson of Hanson Law Office, LLC, Buffalo, Wyoming. Argument by Mr. Hill.
Representing Appellee: H. W. Rasmussen, Attorneys at Law of Wyoming, P.C., Sheridan, Wyoming.
Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.
[¶1] William R. Snell (William) and Clyde Allen Snell (Allen) are remainder beneficiaries of the family trust created pursuant to the terms of the Imogene Snell Revocable Trust. William filed an action for a trust accounting from his father, Clyde V. Snell (Clyde), who is the sole trustee and current beneficiary of the trust. The district court applied Arkansas law in accordance with the trust's choice of law provision and granted summary judgment in favor of William, ordering Clyde to produce certain trust documents to him. Clyde appealed.
[¶2] We conclude the district court's summary judgment order was not a final appealable order. However, we exercise our discretion to convert Clyde's notice of appeal to a petition for writ of review and grant the writ to address the legal question of whether William is entitled to a trust accounting. On that issue, we affirm the district court's determination that, under Arkansas law, William is entitled to an accounting and remand to the district court for immediate release of the records in the court's possession and further proceedings consistent with this decision.
[¶3] The dispositive issues in this case are:
1. Was the district court's order appealable?
2. If the order was not appealable, should this Court use its discretion to convert the notice of appeal to a petition for writ of review and grant the writ?
3. Did the district court properly interpret Arkansas law in concluding that a trustee is required to account to a remainder beneficiary even though the trust does not expressly require it?
[¶4] Imogene and Clyde Snell were married and had two sons, William and Allen. In 1993, Imogene executed a revocable trust, which named her and Clyde as the initial co-trustees and slated William as successor co-trustee if either was unable to serve. The trust contained a choice of law provision directing that it be construed and governed by the laws of Arkansas, where Imogene was domiciled. The stated purposes of the trust were to avoid federal estate taxes and provide for Clyde after Imogene's death.
[¶5] Imogene died in 2003, and the trust, therefore, became irrevocable. Under its terms, her estate was split between a bequest to Clyde and a family trust. The family trust states that Clyde may get distributions of income and principal under certain limited circumstances. William and Allen are remainder beneficiaries of the family trust.
[¶6] After Imogene's death, Clyde and an Arkansas bank were co-trustees. The bank was soon replaced by William's and Allen's uncle, Glen Evans, who served as co-trustee with Clyde. In 2006, Clyde moved to Buffalo, Wyoming, where Allen lived. Mr. Evans died in 2009, leaving Clyde as the only remaining trustee, and no successor co-trustee has been appointed.
[¶7] In 2013, Clyde proposed that the family trust be terminated and the assets be divided between the two sons. When William received the trust termination documents, he noticed that the value of an asset of the trust, an Edward D. Jones investment account, had recently fallen by over $200, 000. He asked for an explanation but did not receive one.
[¶8] William filed an action in the district court seeking an order directing Clyde "to provide sufficient material facts for [William] to protect his interests as a beneficiary of the Imogene Snell Family Trust [and] an [o]rder continuing the Court's supervision of the administration of the trust." Clyde contested the request for an accounting, and William moved for summary judgment.
[¶9] The district court initially issued an order titled "Order Denying Motion for Summary Judgment." However, the district court's ruling was more than a simple denial of William's motion. It ruled in William's favor that he is "entitled to an accounting in order to ensure the purpose of the Trust is being achieved." But, it found that there was an issue of material fact as to "whether or not the request for an accounting is reasonable." By this ruling the district court apparently meant that there would have to be a factual determination of what records and information would constitute a "reasonable" accounting, rather than a determination of whether an accounting was reasonable at all. After issuing the summary judgment order, the district court held a hearing on "what would be a reasonable request for trust records." At that hearing, the court ordered Clyde to produce for in camera review a list of all trust assets and "information related to activity associated with the Edward D. Jones account from June of 2012 to present." Clyde provided the information to the district court under seal.
[¶10] The district court examined the documents in camera and issued an order on October 20, 2015, ruling "the information tendered is discoverable as it does not constitute an unreasonable accounting." On November 16, 2015, the district court entered an "Order Nunc Pro Tunc Clarifying October 20, 2015 Order, " stating that it intended to grant summary judgment in favor of William ...