Friday, July 14, 2017

Madison attorney accused of depleting his mother's estate.

The administrator for an estate in Simpson County accused his brother, Madison County attorney Steve Thornton, of depleting an estate and converting its assets for his own use and denying family members access to the estate.

Sadie Thornton died in 2005 at the golden age of 84. She was a resident of Simpson County.   Her husband died in 2000.  They had six surviving children: Vince, Steve, Joseph, Tammy, Hope, and Debra. Sadie and her husband, Joseph, created the J.P. Thornton Family Trust.   A certificate of trust was recorded. Sadie died without a will.

Vince submitted a petition on December 19, 2016 that asked the Chancellor to open the estate and appoint him as administrator.  A supplement to the petition that described the assets was filed in January.  It states the trust had 167 acres valued at $295,000, two homes on five-acre parcels valued at $127,500, and personal property (p.26) valued at $70,000 that included a checking account, timber, safe contents, and various farm implements.

The Chancellor approved the petition on January 23, 2017.  However, Steve filed a motion to vacate the judgment, revoke letters of administration, dismiss the petition, and..... sanction the petitioner.  Truly a family fight.  Vince accused his brother of deliberately misstating the assets that were held by the trust and creating a bogus letter signed by their mother.  The alleged letter states that Sadie resigned her position as trustee "on behalf of interested parties".  Vince says the letter didn't appear until 11 years after his mother's death and is probably a "fabrication." (p.12).  He also alleges his brother clear-cut the property and sold the timber in 2011.  He claimed the clear-cutting decreased the value of the property by $50,000 and the monies received from sale of the timber were not put back into the estate.

Silver and gold, gold and silver come into play in this family fight.  The response (p.15) to Steve's motion to vacate alleges:

On this  particular  occasion, Steve Thornton refused to divide Sadie's gold and silver to an heir. During a meeting held at the behest of Steve Thornton, Debra [interested party and heir to estate] requested that Steve Thornton distribute her share of gold and silver that Steve Thornton was holding in his personal safe. Steve Thornton refused  to  divide the gold and  silver on  the  basis that Debra  [interested]  had arrived late for his meeting and she had not  provided enough evidence to  him [as successor  trustee]  that the gold and silver should be given to Debra [interested party]. This conversation is recorded and will be made available to the court upon  a hearing on  same. The Administrator  will show  that Steve Thornton sold the gold and silver for $2,446.06 two years later [2010] and deposited the proceeds into the J. P. Thornton  Trust  banking account.  Steve Thornton  then  took  the money  and  used it for  his own personal benefit.
The response makes more allegations (see p.16).  Vince accused Steve of reusing to provide any financial information on the trust and worked with Joseph to mislead them.

Vince filed his motion to remove Steve as trustee and dissolve the trust in March (p.6).  The motion asked the court to give him the power to subpoena the financial records for the trust.  The motion states:

Steve C. Thornton  has restricted  all interested  parties access  to  Estate and Trust financial information.  That without  this Court's authority  to subpoena banking accounts in the name of J.P. Thornton  Family Trust and/or Steve C. Thornton, Adnunistrator  is without  any  recourse  to trace the whereabouts of converted estate assets.

4. Steve C. Thornton has repeatedly restricted access to information from interested parties, including but not limited to, timber contracts, proceeds from timber sales, various disbursements of Trust money, money spent on expenses for construction, and disbursements relevant to ongoing litigation all of which the heirs/beneficiaries hold a vested equitable interest. That since 2009, Steve Thornton has been renovating two houses of the trust that were originally intended to generate income for the Trust. Administrator should review the trust bank records to determine if Steve Thornton used converted estate assets and/or proceeds from estate property in which he sold, to pay for the construction.....

Steve Thornton has shown hostility to beneficiaries/heirs /interested parties', upon any request to distribute estate and trust property and assets, threatened to sell real property and spend any money held in the trust account, which he claims is within his authority, and threatened to disinherit beneficiaries
The motion accuses Steve of having a conflict of interest because he was both a successor trustee and a beneficiary.  It claims that he sold coins belonging to the estate as well as property as scrap metal.  Vince accuses Steve of depleting the estate (#13, p.5) and charging an "unknown amount of fees" to the estate for his work on an easement lawsuit related to the estate.  Steve stands accused of allowing the lawsuit to "linger" without a resolution so he can generate more fees that are paid by the estate.  Vince asks the court to order Steve to provide all financial records for the trust, remove Steve's authority over the trust, and dissolve the trust to the remaining assets can be distributed to the proper beneficiaries.  The motion also asks the court to award damages against Steve.

A hearing was scheduled before Chancellor David Shoemake but it was continued.  Attorney Megan Stuard Thornton represents Vince Thornton.  Steve filed a motion to continue on May 26.  He claimed he did not learn of the motion to remove him until March 10.  He accused Vince's lawyer of trying to schedule an ex parte hearing on the motion so Steve couldn't defend himself.  The Court Administrator claimed that the Chancellor is available on July 31, August 1, and August 3.

Family Fight.  Stay tuned. 


Anonymous said...

Is the brother, Vince Thornton, the same person as the president of the Central Mississippi Tea Party?

Anonymous said...

I would schedule a family meeting and tazz Steve as soon as he walked into the meeting. I would then zip tie him and place his nuts in a vise. I would then let all the family members take turns spinning the handle. Ole Steve would come around and everyone could go on their merry way.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this guy Dorsey's co-counsel in the case against Butler Snow, et al?

Anonymous said...

The trust is what it is.

Anonymous said...

Yea that's Dorsey's co on the Mayfield case. How can he refuse for a decade to provide an accounting? If that's true... he can kiss his law license gone.

Anonymous said...

10:13 - and Chairman of the MS Constitution Party? Candidate for legislature multiple times (one time even getting 12% or so of vote)?

Anonymous said...

I continue to read or hear of trusts and estates that have been managed to benefit the executor or trustee in MS and/or benefit some heirs by excluding other heirs.
If our laws don't require a complete accounting to the court and heirs upon the death of the person who made the will or created the trust before any action can be taken, something is very wrong with our laws.
It seems as well, that when heirs suspect mismanagement and file in court, our court delays serve to help the sleazy executor or trustee deplete the estate.
And, of course, the corrupt executor or trustee can take advantage of the cost of challenging his actions when the heirs don't have the money available to pay lawyers to represent their interests. And, starving widows into submission with court delays or refusal by the executor to pay estate debts like a home mortgage has become a successful strategy in MS. The widow ends up accepting
less than she is entitled to receive simply to keep the roof over her head and relieve the emotional stress during a time that is already stressful and frightening.

Karloose More said...

Does The Trust state "...shall provide an accounting...upon demand by...squawking family members."

Anonymous said...

'I continue to read or hear of trusts and estates that have been managed to benefit the executor or trustee in MS and/or benefit some heirs by excluding other heirs.'

Hello! Heirs are stated in a trust, not added or deleted by a trustee. All trusts should include a 'pour-over will'.

Kingfish said...

I'm not aware of any heirs being executed.

Still pissed said...

Ok, here is how it works. Or at least how it worked in my family a few years ago. We've all got an "Estate". Some of us in this world create a "Will" before we die. Some of us create a "Trust" before we die. And it all works as such for at least one elderly woman in Mississippi who was very secretive about her financial holdings in life. The Will simply denotes the executor of the Estate, and upon death, the Estate becomes the Trust. The Trustee(s) is/are named. There are "heirs" to an Estate. There are NO heirs to a Trust. These people are known as "beneficiaries". Yes, you CAN be an heir to the Estate AND a beneficiary to the Trust, but you can also be an heir to the Estate and NOT a beneficiary to the Trust. Now, when you are NOT named as a beneficiary to the Trust, you have no legal rights to obtain information from the Trustee(s) with regard to any accounting, monetary holdings, real estate holdings, personal belongings etc. Basically you are taking the Trustee's word that you are NOT a beneficiary, or have to go in search of someone who you think might be a beneficiary and ask them to request such info from the Trustee. Short of that, you'll have to initiate an "undue influence" case in the court against the Trustee. Now, the "selling point" for a very secretive old woman to create a Trust can be as simple as convincing her that her Trust will avoid Probate of her Estate where everyone will know what financial things she left behind in this world. This is FALSE. You don't escape the Probate process. In the end, $500,000 magically disappeared, to NONE of her family or friends that lovingly took care of her, and the bitter irony was that the Trustee of this "very secretive woman" wound up selling her jewelry in an online auction. As a nephew to the woman, a widow, being the son of one of her two surviving elderly brothers, I took this up with the FBI, the Attorney General's Vulnerable Adults unit and her two elderly brothers took the Trustee to court to no avail. It was beyond criminal what an Attorney and a Bank did to this legally deaf and blind 99 year old woman. Kingfish, if you want a real scoop of this nature to investigate, I've got your story.

Trust Me said...

The Trust I most recently dealt with also contains the clause that anybody contesting it will be forever barred from enjoying proceeds. In other words, you fart around with my intentions and you're shit out of luck.

Peculiar that 12:35 did not mention that a Trust must be funded, populated by assets if you will. It's not a damned mystery document absent of assets and beneficiaries. Heirs and beneficiaries have a common meaning. I would not trust 12:35 to equitably subdivide a grilled sirloin among my patio guests.

12:35 in reply to 2:37 said...

"The Trust I most recently dealt with also contains the clause that anybody contesting it will be forever barred from enjoying proceeds. In other words, you fart around with my intentions and you're shit out of luck."

Ok, so you tell me, just exactly how long, time wise,do you give the Trustee to carry out their task. A month? 6 months? A year? You tell me. Exactly. Before the HEIRS inquire.

"Peculiar that 12:35 did not mention that a Trust must be funded, populated by assets if you will."

If you don't understand that the Trust is funded from the Estate, immediately upon death, you really have no clue what we are discussing.

"It's not a damned mystery document absent of assets and beneficiaries."

Again, it IS a "mystery document" to those it does NOT include. The Will simply designates that upon death, the Estate becomes the Trust. It names the Executor/Executrix of the Estate and the Trustee(s) of the Trust. Period. The Will is recorded with the Chancery Clerk of the decedents County.

"Heirs and beneficiaries have a common meaning."

Oh my friend, without a doubt you are an Attorney that is entirely full of shit. You don't need Google to find this is absolutely FALSE and MISLEADING, but it sure helps for those so inclined to do their own research.

"I would not trust 12:35 to equitably subdivide a grilled sirloin among my patio guests."

You're right. You bitch about it and you get NONE. If you are serving grilled sirloin to your patio guests, maybe you aren't quite the Attorney you think you are.

Anonymous said...

2:37? Oh,you were finished? Well, allow me to retort!
Parker v. Benoist, 160 So.3d 198 (Miss. 2015) In particularly strong language, the Court held that “[an in terrorem] provision is unconstitutional under Mississippi’s Constitution, void as against public policy, and fundamentally inequitable, and we join the large number of jurisdictions who permit a good faith and probable cause exception to [in terrorem] clauses in wills.”

Perhaps you should stick to dividing the Ramen noodles in common area of your trailer park.Here.. have a sip of will make that mouthful of crow go down easier.

Anonymous said...

The words heirs and beneficiaries do not have a common meaning. Heirs are those designated by law who inherit the property of the deceased in the absence of testamentary dispositions. One who receives a bequest in a will is a legatee. A legatee need not be a person who would be an heir in the absence of a testamentary disposition. A beneficiary is one who is named in a trust who benefits from the trust which is held in trust by the trustees. A trust may be created by a settlor (person creating the trust) during the settlor's life, or it may become effective on death by leaving assets in a trust through a will. In sum, the terms heir and beneficiary are not the same and, are in fact legally, unrelated concepts.

Anonymous said...

A trust is funded when signed and sealed and certain assets are then transferred and recorded. Not upon death. If that were not true, a trustee could not act when incapacity befalls a trustor. The purpose of a trust is to transfer assets from an estate and keep hounds (lawyers and judges) fuckin' at bay.

Anonymous said...

10:16, the purpose of a trust is often to keep those who would be heirs from being spendthrifts and wasting the assets, and to protect family wealth for future generations, or to benefit a charitable or educational beneficiary. It has little to do with keeping lawyers or judges at bay. You do realize that lawyers actually draft the trusts. Lawyers, through legal actions, enforce its provisions when trustees act against the provisions of the trust, and judges ultimately decide between parties disputing aspects of the trust. If you think a trust is set up to avoid lawyers and judges, you have a lot to learn.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me all the recent news is about lawyers entrusted to manage robbing a trust! Not members.

Anonymous said...

Living trusts/revocable trusts are the preferred instrument to try to avoid probate. There are many types of trusts with advantages and disadvantages. Some are comfortable with that arrangement, some are not. Transferring assets after death, no matter the means, is never perfect and each instrument tries to handle the difficulties as best as possible in consideration of what the initiating party wants.

Always leave a will. Never ever depend on state law to divide the assets equally or how you want.

Anonymous said...

'If you think a trust is set up to avoid lawyers and judges, you have a lot to learn.'

You are partially correct. ONE lawyer drafts a trust to keep four other sharks at bay. I've learned THAT, but you already knew it. The more of us who can keep lawyers away from family possessions, the better off we all are.

Anonymous said...

12:35 PM I know a CPA that stole the estates of two widows by making himself the sole heir of their estates. Got to be a multi millionair in the process. No one ever challenged him. When they were sick, his wife would babysit to make sure no one else could get near them. He is semi retired and living in Madison at this time.

Anonymous said...

7:36...And you've turned your factual evidence over to whom?

Oh Wait! Lemmee don't want to get involved.

Anonymous said...

If you want to avoid lawyers, a simple will should be enough. Appoint a reliable executor in the will, probate the will, pay the debts, and distribute the assets according to will. It isn't t that difficult. It is what happens the vast majority of the time. Most people don't need or want trusts to settle their estates. Trusts are usually more complicated and involve more people in their administration, including the lawyer who is advising the trustees. When you establish a trust you are giving someone control of the assets. That always carries its own risks. Not saying there are not some bad lawyers, but there are also a lot of bad family members who manipulate elderly relatives as well. Anytime you want to see a good family fight, put a pot of money on front of them and watch what happens when mom or dad or Aunt Betty dies. But the basic purpose of a trust has little or nothing to to with lawyers and judges.

Anonymous said...

'But the basic purpose of a trust has little or nothing to to with lawyers and judges.'

And the game of baseball has little or nothing to do with Louisville Sluggers; however, without them, there is no game.

Anonymous said...

Why do you think trusts exist? Where do you think they come from? Trusts were not created to avoid lawyers, but to allow a person to control the fate of his or her assets as much as possible after death. While trusts can also be created during the settlor's life, the origin was primarily to create a tool for the person to control property after death. Trusts were developed by lawyers and judges through the development of common law. While some folks have had bad experiences with lawyers, that experience does not change the basic purpose or nature of a trust. Lawyers are necessary in the creation or establishment of a trust, but trusts exist for reasons not related to lawyer avoidance. The trust exists to give the person control over the use of assets rather than cede control to the persons who would otherwise receive the property. A trust isn't a panacea to avoid involving lawyers.

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