Discovering Information Regarding A Decedent’s New York Lifetime Trust

There are a number of different ways in which a person can dispose of assets after death.  Creating a Last Will and Testament is a traditional vehicle for a person to transfer his estate to estate beneficiaries.   A Will controls all assets that are owned by a decedent in his individual name at the time of death.  This document can provide details regarding the amounts and the manner of bequests.

Another possible estate planning document is a Living Trust or Revocable Trust.  This trust is created during a person’s lifetime and assets are transferred into the trust during the life of the Grantor.  When a person dies with a Revocable Trust, the successor or remaining trustee distributes or holds the trust fund in accordance with the terms of the trust.  However, unlike a Will, which needs to be filed with the Court for probate, there is no public record of the trust.  As a result, potential beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate cannot immediately see whether they were named in the trust.  Also, it is difficult to determine whether the trust was created or funded under circumstances that may involve undue influence or other wrongful acts.   The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published numerous articles concerning Living or Revocable Trusts.

A person who has questions regarding the validity of a lifetime trust can commence litigation to void the trust.  There are possible proceedings whereby an estate fiduciary, such as executor or administrator, can investigate the circumstances under which the trust was put into place.  It is not uncommon to see trust litigation especially when the terms of the trust document are different from a Last Will that was previously signed by the decedent.

In a recent Manhattan estate case entitled a Matter of Fread, decided by Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson on February 22, 2019, the Court dismissed a proceeding that was brought to obtain information regarding a Revocable Trust.  The proceeding was commenced under Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act section 2102(1) which allows a proceeding “To supply information concerning the assets or affairs of an estate relevant to the interest of the petitioner when the fiduciary has failed after request made upon him in writing therefor”.  In this case the petitioner did not have any beneficial interest in the trust that he wanted to inquire about.   Although the Court dismissed the proceeding under SCPA 2102(1) because the petitioner did not have any legal interest in the trust, the Court noted that SCPA 2102(1) was not the proper vehicle to obtain relief in this situation.  In other words, the petitioner still could have brought a separate proceeding possibly as an estate fiduciary to determine whether assets were improperly diverted into an invalid trust.

Dealing with Estates, Wills and Trusts, especially when estate assets end up being held in a lifetime trust, can be very complicated.   Advice from a New York Estate Lawyer may be helpful.  The terms of a decedent’s estate plan as set forth in a Will may be very different from the terms of a later created trust.

If you have a question regarding contesting a trust or the administration of a decedent’s estate, call me now for a free review.    We offer reasonable and flexible fee arrangements.

New York Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including Queens County and Manhattan.   If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

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