IN THE MATTER OF THE JACK WONG YUEN AND LEI YOUNG WONG YUEN REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST DATED APRIL 22, 1996
APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE THIRD CIRCUIT (T. NOS. 06-1-0019, 07-1-0001 and 07-1-0003)
On the briefs:
Robert J. Crudele, Brian J. De Lima (Crudele & De Lima) for Petitioner-Appellant FRANCES KAILIEHA
Philip J. Leas, Calvert G. Chipchase, Amanda M. Jones (Cades Schutte) for Respondents-Appellees JARRETT N. WONG, JAMIE S. WONG, JACE T. WONG and JACELYN WONG
Jamae K.K. Kawauchi for MOIRA KELEKOLIO-BRIGHT, Trustee of the Revocable Living Trust of Jack Wong Yuen and Lei Young Wong Yuen, dated April 22, 1996
NAKAMURA, CHIEF JUDGE, FOLEY AND LEONARD, JJ.
Petitioner-Appellant Frances Kailieha (Kailieha) appeals from a Third Circuit Probate Court (Probate Court) Final Judgment, which was.entered in favor of Respondents-Appellees Jarrett N. Wong, Jamie S. Wong, Jace T. Wong, and Jacelyn Wong (the Wong Appellees) and against Kailieha on July 9, 2008. On appeal, Kailieha contends that the Probate Court erred in entering judgment in favor of the Wong Appellees by concluding that Kailieha "has not presented genuine issues of material fact as to her standing" to contest the validity of her mother's 1996 trust and will. We agree. Under the facts presented in this case, we hold that Kailieha has alleged a sufficient interest in her mother's estate, as an heir-at-law, to establish her standing to challenge the subject instruments, notwithstanding the existence of a prior will that, although facially valid, has not and may not ever be submitted to probate.
I. BACKGROUND FACTS
Jack Wong Yuen (Jack) and Lei Young Wong Yuen (Lei) (collectively "Settlors") signed an indenture of trust, dated April 22, 1996, entitled the "Revocable Living Trust of Jack Wong Yuen and Lei Young Wong Yuen" (Joint Trust). On September 16, 1996, Lei signed a Will (1996 Will) purporting to be her last will and testament that, among other things, transferred the "residue and remainder" of her probate estate into the Joint Trust. On May 30, 2003, the Joint Trust was amended to add Lei's daughter Moira Bright (Bright), as a co-trustee with James Wong, Jr., who was Jack's nephew. Jack died on September 20, 2004. Lei died nearly a year later, on July 19, 2005.
Jack and Lei were survived, amongst others, by daughters, Esther Nichols, Rowena Adviento, Kailieha, and Bright, grandsons, Shane Ah Chock Campbell (Campbell)and Bernard Kailieha, and Jack's brother, James Wong, Sr.
The Wong Appellees (Jarrett, Jace, Jamie and Jacelyn) are the children of James Wong, Jr. - Jack's nephew, and the grandchildren of James Wong, Sr. James Wong, Jr. predeceased Lei.
Under terms of the 1996 Will, all of Lei's real property holdings and her residual estate were transferred into the Joint Trust upon her death, with her tangible personal property being bequeathed to her daughters (if Jack predeceased her). Under the terms of the Joint Trust, upon the deaths of Jack and Lei, the personal property of the trust was to be distributed free from any trust in equal shares to the "brothers and nephew" of Jack and the "daughters and grandsons" of Lei. The real property held by the trust, however, was to remain in trust and to be conveyed to James Wong, Jr., as trustee, for the benefit of "the brothers and nephew of Jack." The Joint Trust further provided:
If any of the above named beneficiaries [Jack's brothers and nephew] should predecease the last survivor of us [the settlors], or if any of them should die during the term of the trust herein established, his interest shall terminate and the survivors of them shall be the trust beneficiaries.
In addition, the Joint Trust stated that the real property trust created for the benefit of Jack's "brothers and nephew" would terminate
when all of the real property is sold and the net proceeds distributed, or upon the death of the last surviving brother of Jack Wong Yuen. In such an event, the real property shall be conveyed, free of trust, unto my nephew, James Wong, Jr. or, if deceased, then unto his surviving children in equal shares.
James Wong, Sr. was the sole surviving brother of Jack. As James Wong, Jr. was deceased, the corpus of the real property trust was to be conveyed to his surviving children, the Wong Appellees, upon the death of James Wong, Sr. However, James Wong, Sr. disclaimed his interest in the Joint Trust on February 14, 2006.
Prior to the execution of her 1996 Will and the Joint Trust, Lei executed a will on November 10, 1975 (1975 Will), which bequeathed everything to Jack; but if Jack predeceased Lei, everything was left to Campbell, subject to a life estate in favor of Walter Wong Yuen, one of Jack's brothers, who did not survive Jack and Lei.
In the proceeding below, both Kailieha and Campbell submitted sworn declarations stating that they had entered into an agreement in which Campbell promised Kailieha that, if she prosecuted her petition to challenge the 1996 Will and Joint Trust to a successful conclusion, and if the 1975 Will were ever offered into probate and proven valid, he would share with Kailieha Lei's estate devised to Campbell under the 1975 Will. The 1975 Will has never been submitted for approval in a probate proceeding.
On October 20, 2006, the Wong Appellees petitioned the probate court to, among other things, compel an accounting and distribution of the assets of the Joint Trust. In an objection to the Wong Petition, Kailieha alleged that Lei "suffered from Alzheimer dementia since as early as 1988 and that she did not possess the legal capacity to create the subject trust, to fund it or to otherwise convey an interest in property which the Petition assumes is properly a part of its corpus." In addition, while the Wong Petition was pending, Kailieha filed a petition challenging the validity of the Joint Trust and the 1996 Will, alleging that her mother Lei ...