Lessons from a 2024 High-Profile Family Trust Dispute

Attorney Image By: James Filippi
Lessons from a 2024 High-Profile Family Trust Dispute title image

Family Trust Dispute: The Case of Sarah Plott Key vs. Elizabeth Plott Tyler

In a recent court decision, two sisters, Sarah Plott Key and Elizabeth Plott Tyler, continued their legal battle over their parents’ family trust. This case is complex and has involved multiple court decisions over the years. Here’s an easy-to-understand breakdown of what’s happening.

Background of the Dispute

Sarah Plott Key (Key) and Elizabeth Plott Tyler (Tyler) are fighting over their parents’ trust. A trust serves as a legal document that outlines the management and distribution of an individual’s assets, including money and property, upon their demise. Their parents, Thomas and Elizabeth Plott, created their trust in 1999 and made changes to it in 2003 and 2007.

The main issue is a “no contest” clause in the original trust. This clause is like a warning: if someone challenges the trust in court and loses, they might lose their share of the inheritance. Key contends, and the trial and appeals courts cinfirmed, that Tyler unfairly influenced the trust changes in 2007. This dispute is leading to Tyler’s potential inheritance loss.

What Happened in Court

This case has been through several rounds in court:

  1. Initial Ruling: Key first challenged the 2007 amendment, contending Tyler procured it from exerting undue influence on her mother. Tyler defended the challenge, and the court determined the act of defending was itself a challenge.
  2. Appeal: Key appealed the decision, and the higher court agreed with her that Tyler’s defense was did indeed a challenge to the original trust.
  3. Subsequent Ruling: Key then attempted to have Tyler disinherited because she violated the no contest clause of the original trust. The probate court (a court that deals with wills and trusts) initially ruled in favor of Tyler, saying that her actions did not trigger the no contest clause because the 2007 trust amendment did not contain its own no contest clause and was therefore not a protected document.
  4. Current Appeal Decision: In the latest decision, the court again sided with Key, ruling that because the 2007 amendment only changed the percentages of a gift already established in the original trust, this provision of the 2007 amendment was covered by the no contest clause in the original trust.  The appeals court remanded the case back to the probate court for further proceedings to determine if Tyler had a good reason (probable cause) for her challenge.

What’s Next?

Now, the probate court has to look at whether Tyler had a good reason to challenge the trust. If the court finds that Tyler did not have a good reason, she might lose her share of the inheritance.

Why This Matters

This case is important because it shows how complicated family trusts can be, especially when amending the terms of your trust. Most trusts should have no contest clauses, but ensuring the entire trust is fully protected is crucial. It also highlights the legal battles that can arise when someone has evidence that another family member has unduly influenced changes to a trust. Not only will the final decision impact these two sisters, but it will also influence future handling of similar cases.

As this case illustrates, navigating the complexities of family trusts and estate planning requires careful legal guidance. To ensure your wishes are honored and to protect your estate from potential disputes, it is crucial to work with an experienced estate planning attorney. An attorney can help you create a comprehensive plan, incorporate protective measures like no contest clauses, and provide peace of mind that your assets will be managed according to your desires. Don’t leave your estate to chance—consult with a professional to safeguard your legacy.

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