A New York Court May Amend Or Reform A Will Or Trust If Appropriate Circumstances Exist

New York Estate Planning requires that the creator of a Will or Trust clearly set forth his intentions. It is very important that a Last Will or a Trust clearly state the manner in which a person wants his assets to be distributed. Serious problems arise when a Trust or a Will contain language that is ambiguous or provides for dispositions that have a negative impact on the estate plan. One way to avoid these complications is to prepare the documents using clear and direct language. Also, the creator and the estate attorney should review the papers a number of times before they are finalized and signed. However, all potential problems cannot always be prevented. A number of recent Court cases provide examples where Trust language can have a costly effect on Trust administration.In Matter of Rockefeller Univ., which was decided on August 15, 2016, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Nancy Bannon allowed the charitable beneficiary of a Testamentary Trust to ignore certain investment restrictions that were placed in Trust when it was created. The Court relied on New York Not-For-Profit Corporation Law § 555 entitled “Release or modification of restrictions on management, investment , or purpose.” The Court found that in the present day setting the investment restrictions were wasteful, not practical and impeded the proper management of the Trust assets.

Another recent case, which was decided by Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson on August 17, 2016, had a different result. In Matter of Carcanagues, the decedent’s Living Trust made certain provisions for his surviving spouse. The Trustees asked the Court to reform or construe the Trust so that it might qualify for the estate tax marital deduction. The Court refused to change the language of the Trust and found that at the time the Trust was written the decedent had explicitly expressed his intention regarding the manner in which Trust assets were to be distributed. The Court found that the decedent could have amended the Trust if he wanted to change the Trust dispositions. Therefore, the Trust language was not reformed or changed by the Court even though such changes would have resulted in estate tax savings.

It is necessary for clients and probate lawyers to work together to create estate documents that clearly express a client’s wishes and that take into account possible future circumstances. Call me now for a free discussion if you have a problem concerning estate planning or a Will or Trust that needs to be administered.

An experienced New York trusts and estates lawyer can assist with guidance for proper Will or Trust preparation. New York Probate Attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in New York in Trusts and Estates matters and Surrogate’s Court proceedings throughout the past 30 years in Suffolk and Nassau and other counties. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York estate matter, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email: jules.haas@verizon.net, for an initial consultation.

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