Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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The Court of Appeals reversed the order of the Appellate Division affirming Surrogate’s Court’s grant of summary judgment to Petitioners, holding that Petitioners’ claim against the decedent’s estate seeking to enforce an oral promise was barred by the statute of frauds. Surrogate’s Court concluded that promissory estoppel should be applied to Petitioners’ claim to remedy a potential injustice. The Appellate Division affirmed, concluding that the elements of promissory estoppel were met and that application of the statute of frauds would be unconscionable under the circumstances. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Petitioners could not invoke the doctrine of promissory estoppel because application of the statute of frauds would not inflict an unconscionable injury upon Petitioners. View "In re Hennel" on Justia Law

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Hiroaki (Rocky) Aoki, the founder of the Benihana restaurant chain, formed the Benihana Protective Trust (BPT) in 1998 to hold stock and assets relating to Benihana. In 2002, Rocky married Keiko Aoki. In September 2002, Rocky executed a partial release of his testamentary power of appointment whereby Rocky could appoint only his descendants at the time of his death. In December 2002, Rocky executed a second release further restricting his power to appoint by excluding any descendants who were non-resident aliens. After Rocky’s death, the BPT trustees commenced this proceeding seeking a determination as to the validity of the September and December releases. The Surrogate Court decreed the September and December Releases invalid on the grounds that Rocky was not aware that the Releases were irrevocable and that Rocky’s execution of the Releases was not voluntary. The Appellate Division reversed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Keiko failed to raise a triable issue of fact that the Releases were signed as a result of fraud or other wrongful conduct. View "Aoki v. Aoki" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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In IRB-Brasil Resseguros, S.A. v. Inepar Invs., S.A., the Court of Appeals held that, where parties include a New York choice-of-law clause in a contract, such a provision demonstrates the parties’ intent that courts not conduct a conflict-of-laws analysis. In the instant case, Plaintiff was a New York not-for-profit corporation that administered a retirement plan and a death benefit plan. Decedent was enrolled in both plans. Decedent named Appellants as beneficiaries. Both plans stated that they shall be governed by and construed in accordance with New York law. After Decedent died, a Colorado court admitted his will to probate. Plaintiff was unsure to whom the plan benefits should be paid after Decedent’s death and commenced a federal interpleader action against Decedent’s Estate, the personal representative (PR) of the Estate, and Appellants. A federal district court directed Plaintiff to pay the disputed funds to the PR, concluding that Colorado’s revocation law terminated any claims to the plans by Appellants. On appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals certified questions to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals answered by extending the holding in IRB to contracts that do not fall under Gen. Oblig. Law 5-1401 and clarifying that this rule obviates the application and both common-law and conflict-of-laws principles and statutory choice-of-law directives, unless the parties expressly indicate otherwise. View "Ministers & Missionaries Benefit Bd. v. Snow" on Justia Law

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Eastchester Rehabilitation & Health Care Center cared for Edna Shannon for four years. During the fourth year, Family Service Society of Yonkers (FSS Yonkers) was appointed as guardian of Shannon’s person and property. Eastchester later made a claim with FSS Yonkers seeking compensation for services it rendered to Shannon that were not covered by Medicaid. Thereafter, Westchester County Department of Social Services (DSS) advised FSS Yonkers that Shannon was indebted to DSS for medical assistance paid on her behalf. After Shannon died, FSS Yonkers commenced this proceeding to settle its final account and seeking a determination as to how it should disburse Shannon’s remaining property. Supreme Court held that the balance of Shannon’s remaining property should be paid to DSS. The Appellate Division reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) N.Y. Ment. Hyg. Law 81.44 does not permit a guardian to retain property of an incapacitated person after the incapacitated person has died for the purpose of paying a claim against the incapacitated person that arose before that person’s death; and (2) inasmuch as Eastchester’s claim for medical services rendered to Shannon was unrelated to the administration of her guardianship, section 81.44 does not allow FSS Yonkers to withhold from Shannon’s estate funds to pay Shannon’s debt to Eastchester. View "In re Shannon" on Justia Law

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When decedent Robyn R. Lewis died in 2010, a will was admitted to probate that was executed by Decedent in Texas in 1996. Objections to probate were filed by various members of Decedent’s family. The Surrogate dismissed the objections to the 1996 will and admitted it to probate. The Appellate Division affirmed the Surrogate’s decision and decree. The Court of Appeals modified the orders of the Appellate Division by remitting to Surrogate’s Court for further proceedings, holding that crucial issues remained sufficient to raise the presumption that Decedent revoked her 1996 will. View "In re Lewis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Beginning in 1983, Defendant law firm represented Alice Lawrence and her three children in litigation arising from the death of her husband and their father, a real estate developer. For over three decades, Lawrence and Seymour Cohn, the decedent’s brother and business partner, litigated issues surrounding the sale of the decedent’s properties and the distribution of the proceeds. After Cohn and Lawrence settled the matter, this dispute followed between Lawrence and Defendant with respect to the law firm’s fee and the validity of gifts made by Lawrence to three law firm partners. Lawrence died in 2008. Thereafter, the Lawrence estate argued that a revised retainer agreement between the parties was void procedurally and substantively and made claims for refund of the gifts. The Court of Appeals held (1) the revised retainer agreement was neither procedurally nor substantively unconscionable and was therefore enforceable; and (2) the Lawrence estate’s claim for return of the gifts was time-barred. View "Matter of Lawrence" on Justia Law

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Nicole Tausend, the beneficiary of a trust together with her father, Ronald, commenced a N.Y.C.P.L.R. 78 proceeding against Ronald and the partnership (NJR) formed by Ronald for the purpose of acquiring and selling property. Nicole commenced the proceeding in order to obtain access to the partnership documents and an accounting of its finances. In response, NJR issued a demand for arbitration. Supreme Court ordered the parties to arbitration, and the appellate division affirmed. Nicole appeared in the arbitration and asserted several counterclaims, which lead to NJR's commencement of this court proceeding seeking to stay arbitration of the counterclaims on the basis of the expiration of the statute of limitations. Supreme Court granted the petition and stayed arbitration of the counterclaims. The appellate division modified by dismissing NJR's petition to stay arbitration of the counterclaims, reasoning that the partnership was precluded from obtaining a stay because it had initiated and participated in the arbitration. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that because NJR initiated and participated in the arbitration of issues stemming from the dispute, its timeliness challenge to the counterclaims must be decided by an arbitrator. View "N.J.R. Assocs. v. Tausend" on Justia Law

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At issue here was national assets stolen by President Ferdinand Marcos. Victims of Marcos' human rights abuses ("Pimentel class") obtained a judgment against Marcos' estate and, in enforcing the judgment, sought to obtain assets also sought by the Republic of the Philippines and its commission organized to retrieve the assets (collectively, Republic). In dispute was the assets of Arelma, a Panamanian corporation, which were held in a brokerage account. The brokerage firm commenced an interpleader action in federal court. The district court awarded ownership of the Arelma assets to the Pimentel claimants. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, holding that the assertion of sovereign immunity by the Republic required dismissal for lack of a required party. Petitioner then commenced this turnover proceeding seeking to execute the Pimental judgment against the Arelma account. Meanwhile, a Philippine court determined the assets had been forfeited to the Republic. PNB and Arelma moved to intervene, requesting dismissal. Supreme Court denied the motion. The appellate division reversed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the appellate division did not err in concluding that dismissal was required under N.Y.C.P.L.R. 1001, as the Republic was a necessary party but could not be subject to joinder in light of the assertion of sovereign immunity. View "Swezey v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a dispute over the ownership of the land upon which a boardwalk and dock was constructed by the deceased. At issue was whether plaintiff estate established that its decedent acquired title to a certain parcel of land by adverse possession. The court held that the evidence that the deceased possessed, used, and controlled the disputed land for the 21 years prior to and including 1984 was sufficient to establish title by adverse possession and grant summary judgment in plaintiff estate's favor. The court need not determine whether it acquired title to the disputed property pursuant to the doctrine of practical location. Accordingly, the judgment should be reversed. View "Estate of Becker v Murtagh" on Justia Law

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This case concerned a dispute over ownership of Jacques Lipchitz's, the Russian-born cubist sculptor, bronze sculpture, "The Cry." Jacques' wife, Yulla, inherited the work of art after he died. Yulla subsequently entered into a relationship with Biond Fury and, from time to time, would make gifts to Fury of Jacques' works. Yulla's son, Mott, was the executor and a residuary beneficiary of one third of her estate. In July 2004, Mott claimed to have sold "The Cry" and three other sculptures in a package deal to Marlborough International Fine Art Establishment. On September 15, 2005, Fury sold his interest in "The Cry" to David Mirvish. The Surrogate's Court issued an order and subsequent to a settlement agreement, Mott argued in his motion that Mirvish's claim was untimely and he could not prove all elements of a gift. Mirvish countered Mott's motion and contended, inter alia, in his cross motion, that Yulla made a valid gift of the work to Fury. The court reversed the order of the Appellate Division and reinstated the Surrogate's Court's order granting Mirvish's cross motion and denying Mott's motion for summary judgment. The surrogate concluded that Yulla had made a valid inter vivos gift of the work to Fury, observing that the wording of the deed of gift was "in the past tense, i.e., 'I gave this sculpture "The Cry" to my good friend Biond Fury,'" which was not only "indicative of a past transfer," but also "clearly identifie[d] the intended object and [was] consistent with [Yulla's] long pattern of making gifts of similar items to her companion." View "Mirvish v Mott" on Justia Law