Posts Tagged ‘accounting’

Assets Not Held As Part of Trust Pass to Different Successors

DECEMBER 15, 2014 VOLUME 21 NUMBER 45

From time to time we see appellate court decisions dealing with a common estate planning problem: after creation of a trust, changing title to assets is an essential element of completing the estate plan. Once in a while, as appears to be the case in this week’s court decision, the failure to “fund” the trust may actually be intentional. But the point is still valid. Assets not titled to (or left to) a trust will not be affected by the trust’s terms.

Actually, before we lay out the facts in this week’s case, we want to make two other points supported by the decision. First: to the extent that probate avoidance is an important part of your estate planning, just signing a trust document is not enough. But that doesn’t mean that assets not transferred to the trust will necessarily need to be probated — there are other probate avoidance choices available, whether you have signed a trust or not. Second: heirs need to look at the larger picture, not just the language of one document — be that a trust, a will, a power of attorney or a handwritten note from a now-deceased family member.

Let’s look at the facts of an Arizona Court of Appeals case issued late last week. Fred and Elena Dominguez (not their real names) had been married for years, but had no children together. Elena had four children from her first marriage. Fred and Elena created a joint revocable living trust and transferred three parcels of real property into the trust’s name in 1998.

Late in 2003 Fred and Elena sold part of their real property for $910,000. They received about a third of the sale price in cash, and took back a note for the remaining value of the property. A month later they opened an account at a local bank; that account was titled in their names as individuals, not as trustees, and Sarah, one of Elena’s daughters, was named as a joint owner.

Elena died a little more than a year after the account was opened. Shortly after that, her name was taken off the account so that it was held by Fred and Sarah as joint owners — and not as trustees.

Upon Elena’s death, the trust was divided into two shares and both became irrevocable. It wasn’t until four years later that Fred hired a Phoenix attorney to make the calculations and complete the division; the attorney incorrectly listed the joint account as a part of one of the trusts. The trust division was completed as to the remaining assets, but it took Fred two more years to notice that the listing improperly included the bank account as an asset of the divided trust. In 2011 an amended allocation of trust assets was completed by the same attorney, and approved by Fred and the then-current trustees of the trusts.

Fred himself died shortly after the amended trust division was completed. Elena’s two sons requested an accounting from the trustees; they sent a preliminary accounting and copies of some account documents. Elena’s sons filed a complaint with the probate court arguing that the trustees had failed to discharge their fiduciary duties by not collecting the assets in the joint bank account, and that the accounting did not show the proceeds of the note from the sale of the trust’s real estate.

The probate court held a three-day hearing on Elena’s sons’ complaint. Ultimately, the judge ruled that (a) the joint bank account passed to Sarah outside of the trust and outside of probate proceedings, (b) the receipt of payments on the note was not the responsibility of the trustees and did not need to be accounted for, and (c) the accounting provided by the trustees was both accurate and adequate.

The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the probate court decision. The appellate judges noted that it was apparent that Fred and Elena intentionally took the proceeds from sale of the real estate out of the trust — which they were entitled to do while they were both alive — and set up the joint account. Elena’s sons had not shown that there was any mistake or misunderstanding about the transaction. Just because the underlying real estate was once owned as part of the trust it did not follow that they had to keep it in the trust after the sale.

Similarly, the trustees had no duty to account for note payments received by Fred and Elena before their deaths (and before the trustees even took over the trust). The trust terms echoed general trust law: the successor trustees were permitted to accept trust assets as they stood at the time they took over as trustees, and no evidence had shown that any improper transfers had occurred.

One interesting side fact: the two successor trustees were the two husbands of Elena’s daughters. One of those daughters, of course, had received a large bank account outside of the trust. Her brothers argued that the trustees had breached their duty of impartiality by not pursuing Sarah for the bank account, and by communicating with Sarah’s lawyers and strategizing about how to present their case. Not so, ruled the Court of Appeals. The property passed outside the trust, and the trustees were permitted to discuss the case with Sarah and her attorneys — Sarah would be a key witness in the case, after all.

Finally, the Court of Appeals approved the accountings provided by the successor trustees. They demonstrated that “trust assets were accounted for and intact.” That was all that was required of the trustees, and they met their obligations. In the Matter of the Dobyns Family Trust, December 11, 2014.

It appears as if Fred and Elena intended to change the distribution of their assets by creating the joint account outside the trust. They could have accomplished the same result by amending the trust — which they would have had the authority to do at the time of the sale of trust assets (or earlier, for that matter). That might have avoided the later challenge, but of course it might not have done so, either.

Much more often, we see cases in which changes like those Fred and Elena worked are inadvertent. “Funding” of a trust is an important part of the plan, but just as important is maintaining the funding status so that you do not accidentally change your estate plan. Of course, if you intend to make a change your lawyers will be happy to counsel and assist.

New Florida “Trust Protector” Case Shows How the Idea Can Work

DECEMBER 8, 2014 VOLUME 21 NUMBER 44

We’ve written several times about the relatively new concept of “trust protectors.” The idea is that a trust can be much more flexible if someone — necessarily someone who is entirely trustworthy — has the power to make at least some kinds of changes after the trust becomes irrevocable. The precise power of a trust protector can usually be spelled out in the trust document, but frequently includes the power to amend the trust (or even terminate it), to change beneficiaries or to remove a trustee and name a successor.

While trust protectors have been the subject of much writing, they are still new enough not to have been spotted in the court system very often. Some of that, of course, is because the very existence of a trust protector can sometimes avoid the need for court action — or head off a court contest, if someone is unhappy with the trust’s administration. Mostly, though, the idea is too new, and has not even been formalized in many states.

Arizona has a specific statute allowing trust protectors. States are increasingly codifying similar provisions, often as part of the Uniform Trust Code, which has been adopted now in over half of the states. Florida is one of those states, having adopted its version of the Uniform Trust Code — expressly including a provision for trust protectors — in 2008. Now a new appellate case out of Florida gives some insight into how the trust protector might be used.

Zach Moore (not his real name) was a successful businessman who retired to Florida, where he lived with his second wife Patty. He had two children from his first marriage. Like many people, Zach decided that he should have a revocable living trust; he signed trust documents in 1999 and rewrote them in 2008, the same year that Florida adopted the Uniform Trust Code. His new trust included a provision permitting the trustee to name a trust protector in order to amend the trust to clarify any ambiguity in the future. He also included some specific language making it clear that after his death the trust was to be primarily for his wife’s benefit, and that his children’s shares would be created only on her death. He and Patty were named as trustees, and upon his death Patty would continue as sole trustee.

Zach died in 2010, and Patty took over as sole trustee. Not long after that, Zach’s two children brought a suit against Patty alleging that she was not managing the trust properly, and demanding an accounting from her. She filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that they were not beneficiaries of the trust at all — their separate-share trusts, she argued, would be created only upon her death.

The trial judge disagreed, ruling that the trust would divide into separate shares, not be transferred to new trusts. That meant that the children were beneficiaries, although their interests did not arise until Patty’s death. Still, they would have standing to challenge her administration of the trust.

Patty’s response: she appointed a trust protector, as provided for in the trust document. That trust protector amended the trust to make clear that upon Patty’s death the then-trustee was to distribute the remaining assets to a new trust, which would then split into two shares for Zach’s children.

Did that resolve the issue? Not quite. The trial judge ruled that the purported amendment by the trust protector was ineffective, because it did not benefit all the beneficiaries of the original trust — it would leave Zach’s children with no power to challenge Patty’s actions as trustee.

Patty appealed, and the Florida Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling. The appellate judges first noted that the then-new Florida Trust Code allowed for inclusion of trust protectors, and that the powers given to the trust protector in Zach’s trust were not outside the scope of the law. Importantly, the appellate court specifically rejected the children’s argument that the Uniform Trust Code makes court modification the only way to amend an irrevocable trust.

The Court of Appeals went on to note that the trial judge’s reading of the trust to find a single trust dividing into shares was not unambiguously clear from the trust document. That meant that the trust protector’s actions to clarify an ambiguous provision was clearly within his authority — and the amendment was valid. “From the trust protector’s affidavit,” wrote the court, “it appears that the husband settled on the multiple-trust scheme for the very purpose of preventing the children from challenging the manner in which the wife spent the money” in the trust he had established. That purpose should be upheld, decided the appellate judges; the court specifically approved the trust protector’s amendments. Minassian v. Rachins, December 3, 2014.

Arizona’s trust protector statute is, if anything, broader than Florida’s statute. Powers that can be assigned to a trust protector are spelled out, with the specific provision that they are not limited to those listed. Trust protectors can be an important and effective way to address possible future disputes; it can make sense to include a trust protector, especially in a case where future contentiousness is anticipated.

 

Accounting Requirements for Irrevocable Trusts in Arizona

FEBRUARY 4, 2013 VOLUME 20 NUMBER 5
Arizona adopted a version of the Uniform Trust Code in 2008, to be effective at the beginning of 2009. The UTC has been the subject of much discussion across the country — it has been adopted in about half the states, and soundly rejected in a few others. Despite all that discussion, however, there are relatively few court cases addressing what the UTC provisions actually mean.

One concern commonly raised about the UTC has been its requirement that trust accounting information must be given to beneficiaries, including those who receive no benefit until after the death of a current beneficiary. Take, for instance, a common situation: in a second marriage, a wife establishes a trust for the benefit of her husband for the rest of his life, with the remainder to be paid out to her children (from her first marriage) after the husband’s death. Then the wife dies, leaving her house and brokerage account to the trust. Her surviving husband is trustee. Under Arizona’s version of the UTC, her children are entitled to receive at least annual reports from the husband.

But what should those reports contain? The Trust Code is less than completely explanatory. It says that the wife’s children are entitled to “a report of the trust property, liabilities, receipts and disbursements, including the source and amount of the trustee’s compensation, a listing of the trust assets and, if feasible, their respective market values.”

In a recent Arizona Court of Appeals case, the meaning of that requirement was questioned. The history was slightly more convoluted than the scenario we describe above: the trust had been established by a husband and wife for the ultimate benefit of the husband’s two daughters. First the husband and then the wife died. The trust, by its terms, then divided into two shares — one share outright to  one daughter, and the other share to a local Certified Public Accountant as trustee for the benefit of the other daughter.

To try to make this convoluted story a little clearer, let’s identify the parties. In keeping with our usual attempt to avoid family names popping up in internet searches, and to make it easier to keep track, we’ll give everyone shortened names. We’ll call the combined trust — the original one set up by the husband and wife — the G Trust, and the trustee of that trust Geraldine. We’ll call the trust for the benefit of one daughter the S Trust, and the CPA/trustee of that trust Scott. The other daughter will be Doris.

Doris filed a court action asking for determination of the proper division of the G Trust. She noted that she had been named as beneficiary of an annuity and asked that it be determined that it was not part of the trust. Geraldine, the trustee of the G Trust, filed a proposed distribution schedule for the G Trust. Both Doris and Scott (the Trustee of the S Trust) objected, each arguing that their share should be increased. The probate court found that the annuity belonged to Doris, and that Geraldine should make her own calculation as to how to distribute the G Trust.

Months later, Scott filed a request that the court order Geraldine to file an “accounting” with the court. Geraldine objected that she had done everything the Arizona UTC required — and that all she was required to provide was a “report” under that statute. Scott argued that he was entitled to a more formal accounting. Ultimately the probate judge denied that request, finding that Geraldine’s reports (consisting of account statements and other documentation) were sufficient for Scott to protect his trust’s interest. Scott appealed.

With that background, the question before the Court of Appeals was straightforward: does the Arizona version of the Uniform Trust Code allow a beneficiary to make a demand for a formal, detailed accounting? No, ruled the appellate court. In fact, the UTC made the accounting requirements less onerous, rather than imposing more detail: the prior Arizona law had required “a statement of the accounts of the trust annually,” but that statute was repealed when the UTC was adopted.

According to the appellate decision, requiring an “accounting” would have included “establishing or settling financial accounts” and “extracting, sorting, and summarizing the recorded transactions to produce a set of financial records” (quoting from Black’s Law Dictionary 9th Ed.). The court also quoted from the commentary prepared by the UTC’s original, multi-state drafters: “The reporting requirement might even be satisfied by providing the beneficiaries with copies of the trust’s income tax returns and monthly brokerage account statements if the information on those returns and statements is complete and sufficiently clear.”

The bottom line: the main concern of the UTC is to assure that beneficiaries have the information they need to be able to protect their interests. Scott had sufficient detail that he could calculate whether Doris had received more than her share of the G Trust, and Geraldine was not required to prepare a more formal report. In the Matter of the Goar Trust, December 31, 2012.

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