Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Connecticut Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court in favor of Defendant Barbara Lembo in this action brought by beneficiaries of an inter vivos trust and their mother alleging that Defendant breached her fiduciary duty as trustee, holding that the allegations in the complaint stated a legally sufficient claim for breach of a trustee's fiduciary duties under Connecticut law.The will of the decedent bequeathed the residue of his estate to an amended and restated revocable trust benefitting his three children. At issue was the proper administration of a portion of the decedent's residuary estate that had not yet been distributed to the trust. Plaintiffs brought this action alleging that Defendant, among other things, breached her fiduciary duty by failing to protect and collect trust property. The trial court concluded that Defendant, as a trustee, had no duty to take any action prior to the distribution of the residuary assets. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a genuine issue of material fact remained as to whether Defendant owed the trust beneficiaries a duty to collect and protect the prospective trust property in the residuary estate; and (2) the complaint sufficiently alleged a cause of action against Defendant for breach of her fiduciary duty as trustee. View "Barash v. Lembo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the appellate court concluding that enforcement of in terrorem, or no-contest, clauses in the decedent's will and trust agreement against Defendant would violate public policy, holding that the appellate court did not err.Plaintiff was the son and Defendant was the daughter of Mae Salce, the settlor of the trust agreement in this case. Both the trust agreement and the will contained an in terrorem clause providing that if a beneficiary takes certain actions she forfeits her rights as a beneficiary under the instruments. The appellate court concluded that enforcement of the clauses against Defendant, a beneficiary, would violate public policy when Defendant challenged certain aspects of the performance of a fiduciary. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Defendant's actions were based in good faith, enforcement of the in terrorem clauses would violate the public policy embodied in statutes requiring probate courts to supervise fiduciaries. View "Salce v. Cardello" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the appellate court affirming the trial court's granting of a motion to dismiss filed by Defendant, the Archdiocese of Hartford, on the grounds that Plaintiffs lacked standing to enforce the terms of a charitable gift, holding that Plaintiffs lacked standing.Plaintiffs, parents of students and students attending Our Lady of Mercy School (OLM) in Madison, initiated the underlying action alleging that a testamentary bequest from From H. Rettich to OLM should be viewed as an endowment that resulted in a constructive trusting benefitting Plaintiffs, with Defendant acting as a trustee. The trial court concluded that Plaintiffs did not have standing under the special interest exception to the common-law rule, Conn. Gen. Stat. 3-125 that the attorney general has exclusive authority to enforce the terms of the charitable gift. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the appellate court correctly determined that Plaintiffs did not have standing under the special interest exception to bring an action to enforce the bequest. View "Derblom v. Archdiocese of Hartford" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the appellate court affirming the trial court's determination that Susan D. Elia could not create an irrevocable trust on her own behalf while she was under a voluntary conservatorship, holding that there was no error.In 2011, the probate court granted Elia's application for voluntary representation by Renee Seblatnigg as the conservator of Elia's estate. Elia subsequently created an irrevocable trust and arranged for the transfer of assets to it. In 2014, Margaret Day, acting in her capacity as coconservator of Elia's estate, brought this action seeking a judgment that the trust was void ab initio because Seblatnigg, acting in her capacity as Elia's conservator, did not create and fund the trust with the approval of the probate court under R.I. Gen. Stat. 45a-655. The trial court granted summary judgment for Day, and the appellate court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the appellate court correctly determined that Elia lacked the legal authority to establish the irrevocable trust and, consequently, that the trust was void ab initio. View "Day v. Seblatnigg" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court affirming the judgment of the probate court that Peter Ziegler's Yellow Submarine Trust was a permissible appointee, holding that an unfunded charitable trust is a permissible appointee of the exercise of a nongeneral testamentary power of appointment.In 2015, Peter, a member of a wealthy Connecticut family, suffered an accident rendering him a quadriplegic. One year later, Peter executed a trust instrument to create his Yellow Submarine Trust, which was not funded during Peter's lifetime. Peter, who had nongeneral testamentary powers of appointment under various family trusts, did exercise his powers of appointment in his will to direct the proceeds of the sale of stock in his family's corporation to his Yellow Submarine Trust. Peter's sister argued that the trust was an impermissible appointee because it was unfunded during Peter's lifetime. The probate court disagreed, and the trial court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Peter's Yellow Submarine Trust was a permissible appointee even though it was not funded prior to Peter's death. View "Benjamin v. Corasaniti" on Justia Law

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In this declaratory action concerning the per stirpes distribution of two family trusts the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court rendering summary judgment for Defendants, the trustees of the trusts and potential beneficiaries, and dismissing this action brought by Plaintiffs, potential beneficiaries, holding that the trial court did not err.The two trusts in this case contained language that, upon the expiration of the trust term, the trust principal was to be distributed to the grantor's issue then living, per stirpes. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the trial court erred in concluding that the language of the trust agreements treated the grantors' children, rather than the grandchildren, as the heads of the respective stirpes for purposes of distributing the trust principal. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the trial court correctly concluded that the trust instruments unambiguously provided that the heads of the respective stirpes should be the grantors' children. View "Schwerin v. Ratcliffe" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court granting Defendants’ motion to dismiss this claim brought by trust beneficiaries against third parties on behalf of the trust, holding that the trial court properly determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claim.Plaintiffs, beneficiaries of a trust, brought a breach of contract claim against Defendants, the financial advisor for the trust and the advisor’s employee. Plaintiffs argued that they fit within an exception to the general rule that beneficiaries of a trust lack standing to bring an action against a third party for liability to the trust, thus allowing them to bring this action because trustee improperly refused or neglected to do so. The trial court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the trustee improperly failed to sue Defendants for their alleged breach, and therefore, the allegations were insufficient to demonstrate that Plaintiffs had standing to sue. View "Browning v. Van Brunt, DuBiago & Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court dissolving the marriage of Plaintiff and Defendant. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged several financial orders entered by the trial court. In affirming, the Supreme Court held that the trial court did not err in (1) determining that Plaintiff did not contribute to the value of a trust created by Defendant’s father in 1983; (2) declining to find Defendant in contempt; (3) failing to consider the value of a trust created in 2011 as a marital asset; and (4) structuring the award of attorney’s fees in the dissolution action. View "Powell-Ferri v. Ferri" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, the trustees of a trust created by Paul John Ferri, Sr. solely for the benefit of his son, Paul John Ferri, Jr. (Ferri), sought a judgment declaring that they were authorized to decant certain assets from the trust and that Nancy Powell-Ferri, Ferri’s former wife, had no right, title, or interest in those assets. The trial court concluded that Plaintiffs were not allowed to decant the trust because Ferri had a vested irrevocable interest in its assets. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) under Massachusetts trust law, Plaintiffs had authority to decant assets from the trust; (2) the trial court erred in granting attorney’s fees to Powell-Ferri; and (3) the trial court did not err in the remaining issues challenged on appeal. View "Ferri v. Powell-Ferri" on Justia Law

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After the bankruptcy court granted Plaintiff a discharge of her debts, Plaintiff filed this action against the named defendants, alleging misuse of funds of a trust established by her mother. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to substitute the bankruptcy trustee as the proper plaintiff. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that Plaintiff failed to show that she had brought the action in her own name due to a mistake. The court then dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. While Plaintiff’s appeal was pending, the bankruptcy court granted the bankruptcy trustee’s motion to abandon the underlying cause of action. The Appellate Court affirmed. The Supreme Court dismissed Plaintiff’s appeal as moot, holding that because the bankruptcy trustee abandoned the underlying action and Plaintiff no longer was seeking to substitute the trustee as party plaintiff, resolution of this claim would afford Plaintiff no practical relief. View "Gladstein v. Goldfield" on Justia Law