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PROBATE 45: A claim is abandoned when a party fails to address the issue in its brief on appeal.

This case arises out of a dispute among the T siblings regarding the administration of their mother’s trust. The trust was executed on August 19, 2010. At that time, the mother was the trust’s settlor and sole trustee.

Trust

The mother transferred all her personal property as well as her house to the trust. After the mother’s death the trust’s assets were to be divided into six substantially equal shares to the surviving children. Finally, the trust appointed S as the successor trustee and T as the alternate successor trustee.

After the mother’s death, S initially promised to sell the house to SR, M, and T (the buyers). S failed sell the house to that group of his siblings, however, and he became hostile to them and to M. The issue of how to distribute the trust’s assets, and specifically what to do with the mother’s house, eventually led to litigation. The hostility between the siblings caused the trial court to order S to sell the house to the buyers; it appointed a special fiduciary to oversee that process due to the hostility between the siblings. The buyers eventually purchased the house over a year later.

Settlement Agreement

Samuel argues that the trial court erred by failing to enforce a settlement agreement he alleges the parties reached at the February 3, 2016, hearing, pursuant to which S would sell the house to the buyers.

Claim Abandoned

S fails to actually state the terms of the alleged settlement the parties agreed to at the February 3, 2016 hearing. He similarly fails to state the legal requirements for a valid settlement agreement. Instead, the only legal argument in the brief is citation to three sections of the Michigan trust code, establishing that a trustee generally can administer a trust without judicial supervision, he or she may settle claims against the trust, and the trustee can be removed only if he or she commits a serious breach of his or her duties as a trustee.

S never provided a sustained argument or authority for his position.  A claim is abandoned when a party fails to adequately address the issue in its brief on appeal. Because S failed to address this issue on the merits, it is abandoned. It is unusual for the court to decide a case without addressing any of the issues on the merits. But S presented the court with an unusual situation because he failed to present any substantive legal argument in this case

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FAMILY LAW 83: A trial court can terminate a parent’s rights and permit a stepparent to adopt a child.

A trial court has discretion to terminate a parent’s rights and permit a stepparent to adopt a child when the conditions of MCL 710.51(6) are met. MCL 710.51(6)(b) requires the petitioner to establish that the other parent had the ability to visit, contact, or communicate with the children, and substantially failed or neglected to do so for a period of two years.

PROBATE 53: The trust agreement included an Incontestability Provision.

A settlor’s intent is to be carried out as nearly as possible. Generally, in terrorem clauses are valid and enforceable. However, a provision in a trust that purports to penalize an interested person for contesting the trust or instituting another proceeding relating to the trust shall not be given effect if probable cause exists for instituting a proceeding contesting the trust or another proceeding relating to the trust.

FAMILY LAW 82: Court stated it would terminate the personal protection order (PPO) after the parties present documentation of the initiation of the divorce proceedings.

However, the trial court concluded that these matters should, in fact, be in the province and the jurisdiction of the Family Division and in that respect, having issued a personal protection order, the Court stated it would terminate the personal protection order after the parties present documentation of the initiation of the divorce proceedings.

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FAMILY LAW 77: Court awarded plaintiff sole legal custody; defendant was unwilling to work with plaintiff.

For joint custody to work, parents must be able to agree with each other on basic issues in child rearing including health care, religion, education, day to day decision making and discipline and they must be willing to cooperate with each other in joint decision making. If two equally capable parents are unable to cooperate and to agree generally concerning important decisions affecting the welfare of their children, the court has no alternative but to determine which parent shall have sole custody of the children.

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