Articles Posted in Trusts

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In New York a construction proceeding involves a petitioner asking the Surrogate’s Court to interpret language in a will or trust that is unclear.  The language may be open to conflicting interpretations, the language may be inconsistent with other terms of the will, or the language simply might not make sense.

In In re Petition of Nadler, the decedent was survived by three adult children.  Four years prior to her death, the decedent created trust that was funded by shares of a realty company.  One of the decedent’s children is a trustee.  Under the terms of the trust, the children as beneficiaries were entitled to the income from the trust.   Five years after the decedent’s death, the primary asset of the realty company was sold for over $8 million, and a year later the realty company was dissolved.

The petitioners, the beneficiaries of the trust, petitioned the Nassau County Surrogate’s Court for a judicial construction to provide that because of the sale of the assets the realty company and its dissolution, there is no longer a need for the trust.  As a result, the trust should end and its assets distributed to the beneficiaries of the trust.  The petitioners argue that because the trust does not contain directions related to what should happen in the event of the dissolution of the realty company, there is an ambiguity that requires to court to make a judicial construction.  The petitioners point to language in a related trust that allows for the court to step in to resolve any ambiguity related to the trust termination date.  The petitioners also rely on the law which states that a trust can be terminated when its purpose ends.

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Testators often include provisions for successor executors to take over the responsibilities of administration in the event that the primary executor is not able or is unwilling to serve through the entire period of administration.  Naming a successor trustee also provides for a more efficient transfer of responsibility in the event the primary trustee steps down.

In the case of Stavin’s Will, there was a dispute related to the appointment of a successor trustee that had its roots after probate began when one of the two co-executed died.  The person named by the testator as the deceased co-executor’s successor petitioned the court for letters.  The remaining co-executor objected.

In 1969 E. Stavin died testate. In her will she named her two sons, C. Stavin and M. Stavin as co-executors of her estate.  The will also named the wife of C. Stavin as his successor executor if C. Stavin predeceased the testator. Similarly, the will named the wife of M. Stavin as his successor executor if he predeceased the testator. Neither son predeceased the testator. However, in 1970, four months after letters were issued, M. Stavin died.  For the next 5 years C. Stavin when about the duties of administering E. Stavin’s estate.

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In this case the Surrogate’s Court had to decide how to make sure that a testator’s overall testamentary plan remained intact where a portion of the will is determined to be invalid.

A. Dawe died on March 11, 2014. He was never married and never had children. He was survived by his two brothers, B. Dawe and R. Dawe. However, R. Dawe died in April 2014. The will was admitted to probate in September 2014, with B. Dawe being appointed as co-executor along with J. DeMuro, a friend of A. Dawe

In the will, the decedent made a specific gift to B. Dawe of his 13-year-old cat as well as $6000 to take are of her. The decedent was passionate about genealogy and spent a great deal of time researching Dawe family history. Decedent stated in his will that he is making no additional dispositions to his family. Instead, the decedent directed that the residue of the estate be transferred to the Dawe Family Trust that is to be used to continue and expand a genealogical website that the decedent created, and to create an archive of family genealogical data, photos and heirlooms. The will further provides that 21 years after the death of B. Dawe and his son, E. Dawe, the trust is to terminate and the remaining assets are to go to the Godfrey Memorial Library of Middletown, Connecticut.

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Ballasalmo died at the age of 95, leaving 2 daughters, Knuth and Ayers as her distributees. Petitioner, the decedent’s niece-in-law, submitted a document dated August 16, 2007, purportedly as Ballasalmo’s last will and testament. The will stated that Ballasalmo’s entire estate was to be divided between the petitioner and her husband. The decedent expressly disinherited her daughters. As to be expected, both daughters filed objections to the will. The bases for their objections include that the will was not properly executed, that the decdent lacked testamentary capacity, that it was a mistake, and that it was made under fraud and duress. In response, the petitioner moved for summary judgment dismissal of the decedent’s daughters’ objections.

Summary judgment dismissal is a strategy that allows the moving party to basically win the case without going through the time and expense of a trial. In order to win a summary judgment, the moving party must establish a prima facie entitlement to judgment. In this case, the petitioner mush show that the will was executed according to the requirements of New York law, and that the decedent had testamentary capacity at the time the will was executed. In support of her motion, the petitioner submitted a copy of the decedent’s will which includes an attestation clause as well as a contemporaneous self-proving affidavit. The petitioner also submitted the transcripts of the SCPA § 1404 examinations of the attorney draftsperson who also supervised the execution of the will and of two of the three attesting witnesses.

The evidence submitted established prima facie evidence that the will was properly executed and in statutory compliance.

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In this case the New York Surrogate’s Court considered a request to modify a testamentary trust to change the name of a beneficiary, based on the doctrine of “cy pres.” The cy-près doctrine allows the court to amend the terms of a charitable trust in order to keep the gift from failing. The doctrine requires that the amendment be consistent with the donor’s original intent.

The decedent died on April 13, 1968. Her will was admitted to probate on January 16, 1969. The will includes provisions naming various charities as beneficiaries, including: The Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirmed, The Catholic Foreign Missionary Society of America (Maryknoll Fathers), The Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, The Monastery of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and The Confraternity of the Precious Blood. Each of these organization received a specific bequest of $5,000. The will also left the entire residuary estate to a trust for the benefit of Catholic Child Care Society and provides for the invasion of the principal of the trust annually until the trust and corpus is exhausted. The trust has a remaining principal of approximately $90,000.

The petitioner, Catholic Child Care Society of the Diocese of Brooklyn, requests that the court modify the decedent’s will to designate St. John’s Residence for Boys as a beneficiary of the testamentary trust established under the decedent’s will in lieu of Catholic Child Care Society pursuant to EPTL § 8-1.1. At the time the will was admitted to probate, Catholic Child Care Society operated two programs: St. John’s Residence for Boys and St. Joseph’s Children’s Services. In 1995 St. John’s Residence for Boys incorporated separately but continued to work with Catholic Child Care Society. In 2001, the petitioner ceased doing business. The children for whom petitioner had been providing services were transferred to other authorized agencies throughout New York City. As a result, the petitioner has filed this application pursuant to EPTL§ 8-1.1 to modify the trust. Section 8-1.1 is the statutory codification of the common law doctrine of cy pres. It gives authority to the Surrogate’s Court to direct a disposition to be applied in such manner that will most effectively accompany its general purposes.

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This is a trustees’ accounting and, as an incident thereto, the Court is required to determine the validity of the exercise of the power of appointment granted in article ‘Eighth’ of the testator’s will to his daughter as appointee.

The testator died May 11, 1933, leaving a will which was admitted to probate. By article ‘Eighth’ he created a trust of a fund, the income of which was to be paid to his daughter during her lifetime and upon her death the principal was to be paid to such persons as she designated by her last will, and should she die intestate, to those persons who at the time of her death shall constitute her next of kin. The residual provision contained in article ‘Eleventh’ of the said will provides for an identical disposition of the portion of said residual fund bequeathed to the daughter.

The daughter died a resident of Kings County on September 9, 1957, and under article ‘Fifth’ of her will she attempted to exercise the power of appointment of the corpus of the trust created for her benefit by dividing the same into as many shares as her son may leave issue living at her death which shares were to be held in trust for their respective lives, the income to be paid them from time to time and upon the death of each beneficiary the principal to their issue or, in default of issue, to the remaining children per stirpes. The children of the testator’s grandson, the only issue of the daughter are four infants, each under fourteen years of age, all of whom were born subsequent to testator’s death.

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This is a proceeding (Article 79, Civil Practice Act) for the judicial settlement of their account as surviving trustees of an express trust created by the decedent in a letter writing dated March 10, 1902, and for the construction of the trust instrument in conjunction with the will of the decedent for whose immediate benefit the trust was created.

In March, 1902 decedent had four sons. On March 10th of that year he established the instant trust in a letter addressed to a son and a few days later delivered the securities constituting the corpus of the trust to his other sons as trustees.

The settlor augmented the corpus of the trust pursuant to instruments executed in 1905, 1907, 1909, 1910 and 1911. On December 24, 1909 the sons, as trustees, properly designated their brother Samuel (now a co-petitioner) as a co-trustee.

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This is a petition to terminate a testamentary trust pursuant to EPTL 7-1.19. The trust was established under the will of a decedent, which was admitted to probate on January 23, 2004. Under her will, the testator left her residuary estate, consisting of her residence located at 2531 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, in trust. The trustee was authorized to distribute the income to her daughters for their “maintenance, education, advancement, health, comfort or benefit, including but not limited to the need for a suitable residence of the two daughters.

Upon the death of the survivor of the two daughters, the trust terminates and the principal is distributed to the testator’s son, or, if he does not survive her sisters, to his children living at the testator’s death.

On February 18, 2005, the daughter entered into a contract to sell the Ocean Avenue property for $990,000. In April, 2005, the siblings entered into a stipulation allowing the sister to borrow $175,000, secured by a mortgage on the property, to enable her to buy another home. The mortgage was to be satisfied upon sale of the property and the amount used to satisfy the mortgage charged to the daughter’s share of the sales proceeds.

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There are three proceedings pending in the estate of the decedent: (1) a miscellaneous proceeding to declare the decedent’s Living Trust dated March 19, 2001 invalid; (2) a proceeding to probate an instrument dated March 19, 2001 as the decedent’s last will and testament; and (3) a proceeding by respondent as trustee of the decedent’s Living Trust dated March 19, 2001, to judicially settle his account for the period from March 19, 2001 to May 9, 2007. On July 1, 2010, the court appointed a guardian ad litem for one of the decedent’s daughters, in all three proceedings.

The decedent died on May 9, 2007, survived by four distributees: two daughters, a son; and a granddaughter, the only child of the decedent’s predeceased son. The propounded will pours over to the living trust. The living trust provides only for the son, specifically omits the two daughters, and does not mention the granddaughter.

The guardian ad litem has filed a preliminary report in which he details his findings to date and, based upon them, recommends that he continue to represent his ward’s interests in all three proceedings. The guardian ad litem reports that the daughter has alleged that the son exerted undue influence and fraud upon the decedent at a time when he was physically ill and depressed. The guardian ad litem states that, based on his investigation, he deems it appropriate to participate in the SCPA 1404 examinations in the probate proceeding and to continue to represent his ward’s interests in all three proceedings. The court agrees with his conclusions.

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This is an estate case where the proceeding raises an issue of virtual representation of unborn contingent remaindermen. The purpose of the virtual representation statute (SCPA 315) is to dispense with the necessity of service of process on necessary or proper parties.

The Testator was survived by his widow and one son. The son is unmarried. His unborn children are contingent remaindermen of two trusts.The first is the usual marital deduction A trust with power in the widow to appoint the principal. In default of the exercise of such power, the son is the remainderman. If he should predecease his mother, his unborn children are the contingent remaindermen. The second is a B trust. The widow and son share the income. Upon the death of the widow, the son receives the principal if then living; and if not, then his as yet unborn children are the remaindermen.

The interests of the unborn contingent remaindermen which may be adversely affected arises in this as in most cases not from the nature of the proceedings or of the trusts but from the predictable impact of the decree. It suffices simply to note that the sole assets of both trusts are shares of stock in a family corporation which represent a controlling interest in the hands of the trustee.

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