Morton v. Morton, et al., 308 S.W.3d 287 (Mo. App. S.D. 2010)

Factual Background:

Decedent and his wife created a joint trust.  Decedent funded the trust with their jointly-owned residence and ten acres, horses, and stock certificates for all the shares of two closely held companies.  Decedent was suffering from cancer and began to experience debilitating pain and delusional thoughts.  He filed an ex parte against his wife, as he believed that she had attempted to kill him.  Thereafter, Decedent contacted his attorney to ask if he could withdraw assets from the joint trust.  The attorney advised him that he could possibly convey up to one-half of the joint trust assets without the consent or knowledge of his wife.  Decedent then executed his own Trust, which made no provisions for his wife.  He then transferred one-half of the assets in the joint trust to the new Trust.  After the transfer, the wife was requested to re-issue the stock shares to the new Trust, and she refused.

After Decedent’s death, his son brought an action as Trustee of the Trust, seeking a declaratory judgment that the steps Decedent took to fund the Trust were effective and that the Trustee of the Trust owned the property.

Jasper County Circuit Court, J. Mouton, Held:

The circuit court denied declaratory relief, finding that the transfers from the joint trust were in fraud of the wife’s marital rights.  Son and the other Trust beneficiaries appealed.

Court of Appeals, J. Rahmeyer, Held:

Affirmed.  Appellants contend that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to decide that the transfers were in fraud of the wife’s marital rights because it constituted a counterclaim that had not been pled.  However, Appellants failed to provide the wife’s Answer in the legal file on appeal, and thus the court did not have the materials necessary to decide this point, and thus it was denied.

Appellants’ other points were related:  the first claimed that the court erred in declaring the entire transfer “null and void” because if it was a transfer in fraud of marital rights, only one-third was needed to fund the elective share; the second claimed that the court’s finding of fraud on marital rights was unsupported by the evidence.  On review, the appellate court is primarily concerned with the correctness of the result, not the route taken by the trial court to get there.  Though the court found fraud of marital rights, substantial evidence supports the trial court’s judgment regarding the imposition of a constructive trust.  Decedent and his wife had a confidential relationship, and Decedent’s actions wrongfully deprived his wife of her right, title, and interest in property, and that deprivation was a result of Decedent’s violation of confidence.  A correct decision will not be disturbed because the court gave a wrong or insufficient reason.