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Tonn v. Estate of Sylvis

Supreme Court of Montana

February 27, 2018

MICHAEL J. TONN, ANNE L. QUAST, WILLIAM A. TONN, JR. and CHERYL R. TONN, Petitioners and Appellants,
v.
THE ESTATE OF ELIZABETH SYLVIS, deceased, DANIEL SYLVIS, and KATIE ATKINSON, Respondents and Appellees.

          Submitted on Briefs: December 13, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Sixteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Custer, Cause No. DV 2014- Honorable Michael B. Hayworth, Presiding Judge

          For Appellants: John R. Christensen, Timothy A. Filz, Joseph L. Breitenbach, Christensen Fulton & Filz, PLLC, Billings, Montana

          For Appellees: Susan B. Swimley, Attorney at Law, Bozeman, Montana

          Kellie G. Sironi, Attorney at Law, Billings, Montana

          OPINION

          Mike McGrath Chief Justice.

         ¶1 Michael Tonn, Anne Quast, William Tonn, Jr., and Cheryl Tonn, in her capacity as trustee (collectively William Heirs), appeal from a decision by the Sixteenth Judicial District Court granting The Estate of Elizabeth Sylvis, Daniel Sylvis, and Katie Atkinson's motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

         ¶2 The William Heirs present the following issue for review:

Whether the District Court erred when it declined to apply Montana's anti-lapse statute (§ 72-2-717(2), MCA) to the Armond W. Tonn Testamentary Trust.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Before passing away in 1982, Armond W. Tonn (Armond) executed his Last Will and Testament, which created two trusts. The first trust was a marital trust to care for Armond's wife, Hjordice, during her life. The second trust was for the benefit of the three children of Armond and Hjordice: William Tonn, Marc Tonn, and Elizabeth Sylvis. The children's trust included the "rest, residue, and remainder" of Armond's estate.

         ¶4 Hjordice passed away in 1991 without naming beneficiaries to her marital trust, and the principal from the marital trust was added to the children's trust (Trust). The parties agree that the principal in the Trust consists of a one-half interest in a 50, 000-acre ranch. The initial trustee for the Trust was Armond's brother, Marcus J. Tonn. When Marcus passed away in 2006, Cheryl Tonn and Elizabeth Sylvis were appointed co-trustees. The Trust grants broad discretion for distributions by the Trustee to each of Armond's children, saying

Payments from income and principal shall be made in accordance with the needs of the beneficiaries and not necessarily equally . . . . It is my intention to give my Trustee unlimited power to invasion of principal if he deems it necessary for the proper support, care and education of any of my children.

         ¶5 Armond and Hjordice's son, William, passed away in 2001. William was survived by his wife, Cheryl, and three children: William Tonn Jr., Michael Tonn, and Anne Quast. The William Heirs are appellants in this case. When William passed away, there was no distribution of Trust principal to the William Heirs. The trustee began to distribute one-third of the Trust income to the William Heirs after William passed away and two-thirds to Elizabeth a couple years after ...


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