Articles Posted in Trusts

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New York Estate Planning can take many forms. One aspect of a plan can involve the creation and use of a trust. There are a number of different types of trusts and benefits that may be obtained from their utilization.

For instance, a Testamentary Trust is created by a Last Will and Testament. The provisions of the trust are part of the Will itself. Testamentary trusts can be used to provide for minimizing estate taxes by taking advantage of the exemption provided by the estate tax law. These types of trusts can also be used for other reasons such as establishing a means to administer and manage trust funds for a minor or for a person who may lack the ability to be responsible for large sums of money. Sometimes there may be the need to create a Supplemental Needs Trust. This type of trust allows a fund to be utilized for the benefit of a person who is receiving government assistance such as Medicaid without disqualifying the recipient from future government payments.

An Inter Vivos Trust is a trust that is set up as a separate document during the lifetime of the creator. A common form of an inter vivos trust is a Living Trust or Grantor Trust. This document can provide many different benefits including the avoidance of probate, estate planning and tax minimization, and a mechanism for property management in the event the creator becomes disabled or incapacitated.

Whenever a trust is created it is important that the trustees are carefully selected so that they will carry out the intentions of the creator and protect the interests of the beneficiaries. Unfortunately, there are many instances where there is controversy between the trustees and beneficiaries. In a recent case entitled “Trust of Frederick Brockway Gleason, Jr.” decided by Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson on November 12, 2013 and reported in the New York Law Journal on November 25, 2013, a successor income beneficiary of a trust claimed that a trustee breached its fiduciary duties by allowing the trust principal to be invaded for the benefit of the initial income beneficiary who was her father. The court denied the beneficiary’s request for summary judgment which left the matter open for future litigation and a trial on the merits.

In another interesting case, grandchildren of the late Walt Disney are involved in a court battle regarding a trust. As reported by Joshua Gardner in MailOnline on November 25, 2013 it is alleged that trustees of a trust fund held for Walt Disney’s grandson have been wrongfully withholding payments from the grandson. A court date is scheduled for December 5, 2013.

I have represented many individuals regarding the creation and administration of trusts including testamentary trusts, inter vivos trusts and supplemental needs trusts. All of these instruments can be very helpful in expressing the intention and desires of the creator and may provide tax benefits or protection and asset management for persons such as a minor or those with incapacitating conditions.

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New York Estate Planning can involve many different issues and considerations. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog contains many posts discussing the need for Estate Planning papers such as a Last Will, Living Will, Health Care Proxy and Living Trust. Each of these documents should be prepared so that it reflects the intentions and desires of the creator.

A Last Will can contain relatively simple provisions for the disposition of estate assets. For example, the Will may say that the entire estate is to be given to the testator’s spouse if she survives him or if she does not survive then to the testator’s surviving children.

Of course, there are many circumstances when the provisions in a Will need to be more complex and there may be a desire to create a trust within the Will. Such a trust is called a Testamentary Trust.

A Testamentary Trust might be used for the purposes of establishing an estate tax plan where funds are placed into the trust so as to allow their exemption from taxation in multiple estates as provided by the estate tax laws. Other situations may call for a trust to be set-up to provide management and control of funds for someone who is a minor, or is improvident or for someone who is incapacitated. A Supplemental Needs Trust can be established where an incapacitated person is receiving governmental benefits such as SSD or Medicaid without causing these benefits to be diminished.

Whenever a trust is provided for there must be a Trustee or Trustees who are typically nominated in the document by the person creating the trust. The creator has the ability to define the powers that a trustee may exercise within the confines of the various estate and trust laws concerning these powers.

Trustees can be given broad discretion regarding investments and management of trust assets as well as the power to pay income and principal to the trust beneficiaries. Conversely, a trustee may be directed to use trust assets for a certain limited purposes or to advance a limited goal such as education for a beneficiary.

In view of the limited or broad authority granted to a Trustee, it is very important to both select the appropriate person or institution as a trustee and to define the trustee’s powers. Paying attention to these matters at the time the Will and Trust provisions are drafted is essential to ensuring that the creator’s intentions will be fulfilled after the trust is established and is operational.

New York Estate and Trust Lawyers are familiar with the many cases in the Surrogate’s Court where disputes arise between the trustees and trust beneficiaries concerning the management of the trust and the payment of trust income and principal. Most recently, Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson was presented with a situation where a trust beneficiary claimed that she was destitute and that the trustee of her trust was acting improperly by not making discretionary distributions to her to help her pay her rent and other expenses. In Hammerschlag v. Schlesinger, decided on April 17, 2013 and reported in the New York Law Journal on April 26, 2013, the beneficiary brought a proceeding in the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court to compel the trustee to make these payments and to remove him as trustee. The trustee sought to dismiss the proceeding by claiming that the trust provisions gave him “sole and absolute discretion” to make these decisions. The Court found that despite the trustee’s broad powers, the trustee has a duty to act in good faith and could not abuse his powers. Therefore, the Court scheduled a trial to determine whether the trustee acted properly.

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The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has had many posts discussing the importance of a person’s intent as reflected in their Estate Planning and Advance Directive documents.

A primary purpose of preparing and executing a Last Will, Living Trust, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy or Living Will is to provide a clear expression of the manner in which a person wants his affairs to be handled and to select the Executors, Trustees and Agents who will best carry out such desires. As has been discussed, when a person dies without a Last Will or does not otherwise provide for pre-death management of his affairs, the decisions are typically left in the hands of the Courts and New York Law to determine the rightful beneficiaries and administrators. There are occasions, however, when despite expressing ones directions and intent through language in a Will or Trust, the provisions in a person’s Will or Trust fails to fully provide for the implementation of the specific gifts. For example, a Will may bequeath a sum of money to a certain charity. However, a problem would arise if the charity no longer exists or the purposes of which the charity was formed changed. In such a situation, an Executor or Trustee would be faced with a question as to how to dispose of the assets meant for the charity or a specific charitable purpose.

Fortunately, New York State Laws give the Courts, such as the Surrogate’s Court, the authority to modify the Will or Trust to account for a changed circumstance. In the recent case of Matter of Wheaton Galentine Trust, decided by Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson on April 8, 2013 and reported in the New York Law Journal on April 12, 2013, a Trust provided for a distribution to St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center for geriatric purposes. Unfortunately, St. Vincent’s had ceased operating in 2010. Utilizing the traditional concept of Cy Pres as set forth in New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 8-1.1, the Court found that the creator’s intent was satisfied by allowing the St. Vincent’s distribution to be made instead to two different medical institutions performing geriatric services. Thus, the Court was able to modify the trust terms to carry out the creator’s intent when faced with circumstances that prevented the original disposition from being satisfied.

New York Estate Planning Lawyers assist their clients with documents that express the client’s intentions regarding their personal and financial affairs and the disposition of their assets. In situations involving Estate or Trust Settlement, these expressions of intent can be instrumental to assist a Court in helping to accomplish the client’s goal. When there is no plan in place, such as in the case of an Intestate Estate, a person’s desire to benefit particular members of his family or friends or a charity cannot be fulfilled. Over the many years, I have assisted many clients with their planning goals to create an estate plan and advance directives that fully reflect their intentions and desires.

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New York Estate Lawyers assist their clients with many types of estate planning documents such as Last Wills, Living Wills, Health Care Proxy’s, Living Trusts and Powers of Attorney.

All of these papers are generally created to work together so that a person’s estate plan and lifetime directives are clear and can be followed without complication or estate litigation. A New York Statutory power of attorney empowers the appointed attorney-in-fact to make decisions regarding various types of matters such as business or real estate matters. A power of attorney is a lifetime directive and the authority granted by the power ends at the time of a person’s death. However, decisions and actions made by the attorney-in-fact can have significant consequences after the death of the principal. For example, when an attorney-in-fact executes a deed transferring real estate, or transfers assets in various bank or brokerage accounts, during the lifetime of the principal, provisions that were made in Last Wills or Trusts may no longer be effective. This is because the assets that were meant to be transferred by such testamentary documents may not be owned by the testator in the manner anticipated when the estate plan was created.

Another potential problem is that the attorney-in-fact may use the power of attorney to amend or change some of the estate planning documents such as a Trust Agreement. This was the situation encountered by the Court in Perosi v. LiGreci, decided by the Appellate Division, Second Department on July 11, 2012. In Perosi, Mr. LiGreci had created, during his lifetime, an irrevocable trust and appointed his brother as trustee. LiGreci also created a power of attorney appointing his daughter as attorney-in-fact. Shortly before LiGreci died, his daughter used her authority under the power of attorney to amend the trust and designate the daughter’s son as the new trustee.

The Court ultimately found that the attorney-in-fact had the authority, in this instance, to amend the trust.

In view of the Perosi case, it is clear that naming a person as attorney-in-fact in a power of attorney requires serious consideration. Estate settlement and administration can be compromised by the actions of an attorney-in-fact who has the authority to change estate planning documents. It is a good idea to put precise language into trusts and other agreements defining to what extent, if any, an attorney-in-fact can amend or change these papers.

Individuals expend a great deal of time and expense in planning their estates through the use of Wills and Trusts. It is unfortunate where the actions of a lifetime attorney-in-fact can result in Surrogate’s Court litigation because these documents were changed without the testator or creator him or herself signing the amendatory papers.

A complete review by a qualified New York estate attorney is imperative so that a person’s intentions regarding estate distribution is set forth and can be implemented without modification or confusion.

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Those seeking to set up a trust in New York have many more options than their nationwide peers when it comes to choosing a trustee. New York offers a unique and varied concentration of financial service institutions that is unlike anywhere else in the world.

However, your trustee need not be a powerful financial services company. Trustees can range from a close family member, friend, a multinational bank, New York City estate planning lawyer or anything in between. Each type of trustee has potential advantages and disadvantages. The following are considerations to keep in mind when selecting a trustee.

First and foremost, a trustee must be able to competently handle the duties of the trusteeship. This is not to say that a corporate trustee is automatically more competent, because the corporate trustee typically lacks the personal knowledge about the person who set up the trust. The private trustee, having been a close friend or a member of the family, is often more informed about the trust owner’s personal preferences.

The main advantage of a corporate trustee is the likelihood that the corporate trustee has the resources to specialize in many of the fiduciary responsibilities incumbent of trustees. Corporate trustees typically have particular knowledge in areas such as investment, taxes, record keeping, and regulatory compliance, which make their service appealing to many who are establishing a trust. Corporate trustees are not subject to family biases or prejudices and have little incentive to engage in practices that would favor one trust beneficiary over another.

Some of the main drawbacks to corporate trusteeship are the impersonal nature of the relationship and the potential inflexibility of the corporate trustee in distributing assets to the trust beneficiaries. Corporate trustees may interpret the provisions of the trust more strictly, potentially denying the distribution of assets to beneficiaries in cases of emergency. By contrast, private trustees typically have more reliable and personal contact with living trust owners, and are able to draw on this personal contact in their administration of the trust. If the trust owner happens to be deceased, the private trustee is more capable of anticipating the attitudes that should govern the administration of the trust, drawing on their previous personal interactions with the deceased. Private trustees are, therefore, more flexible as the needs of the beneficiaries arise.

Some of those who establish trusts elect to appoint a group of trustees and to delegate authority amongst them according to their particular strengths. In such an arrangement, the corporate co-trustee may be entrusted with some of the more technical aspects of the administration of the trust, while the private trustee may handle some of the more ambiguous decision-making duties. An advantage of a co-trustee arrangement is the inability of any of the trustees to act unilaterally, ensuring that the possibility of theft, fraud, or mistake is dramatically reduced.

A New York trust and estate attorney can help guide your decision in this important endeavor. The considerations in the appointment of a trustee can often be much more complex than listed here. The right legal professional can help you navigate this difficult decision.

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