Posts Tagged ‘in trust for’

Bank Liable for Exploitation By Branch Manager and Assistant

MAY 10, 2004 VOLUME 11, NUMBER 45

Carmen DiCesare, age 82, may have been a little confused when he visited the local branch of Prudential Savings Bank in south Philadelphia that day in August, 2000. By the time he left the bank he had made major changes in his estate plan, and the bank’s branch manager and assistant branch manager had benefited from Mr. DiCesare’s situation.

What Mr. DiCesare apparently wanted to accomplish was to arrange for direct deposit of his Social Security checks into a passbook savings account at Prudential. Frances Mazzei, the branch manager, told him that he would need to have his original passbook with him to set up the direct deposit account, and he told her that he had lost the book. She then helped him to open a new account, and to transfer his existing Prudential account balances.

One of the documents Mr. DiCesare signed that day was a note prepared by Ms. Mazzei that said “I want to put the account in trust to Frances Mazzei and Lucia Sqiieri.” Ms. Squitieri (the note misspelled her name) was the assistant branch manager. The two women even called bank President Thomas Vento to check on whether the account titling was permissible; Mr. Vento did not advise them not to set up the account. The two women then held on to Mr. DiCesare’s passbook, giving him only a copy.

The “in trust for” language, of course, meant that the two women would receive Mr. DiCesare’s account upon his death. They assisted him in transferring almost $250,000 into the new account, and then moved $430,000 from another bank into the account. The balance was then $680,454.63, with another $709 deposited each month by Social Security.

When Mr. DiCesare did die ten months later Ms. Mazzei and Ms. Squitieri removed and spent the account balance. Mr. DiCesare’s estate then brought suit against Ms. Mazzei, Ms. Squitieri and Prudential Savings Bank itself.

After recovering $156,000 from Ms. Mazzei and Ms. Squitieri, the estate obtained a judgment against them and the bank for the remaining balance. Prudential and the two women appealed.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the judgment against all three defendants. The court quickly determined that Mr. DiCesare was vulnerable, and that Ms. Mazzei and Ms. Squitieri had developed a relationship of trust with him that made them liable for the loss.

As for the bank’s liability, the court ruled that Mr. DiCesare’s estate did not have to show that Prudential had violated any law or regulation. The fact that senior management knew what the two branch officers were doing, and did nothing to stop their actions or even inquire, was enough to make Prudential liable for the entire $563,767.40 judgment. Owens v. Mazzei, April 7, 2004.

Two Life Insurance Beneficiary Designations Require Litigation

APRIL 28, 2003 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 43

When people consider “estate planning” they usually are thinking about preparing a will. Sometimes the common conception of estate planning includes preparing a trust as well, and often durable powers of attorney are also part of the plan. But two recent cases demonstrate that “estate planning” is really much more—it includes the titling of assets and beneficiary designations as well. The most carefully-considered estate plan may fail if those other issues are not also dealt with at the same time.

Lori Flanigan was divorced and had two children when she married her second husband, Craig Munson. Ms. Flanigan had two life insurance policies through her work totaling $217,600. Her divorce agreement required her to name the children as beneficiaries on her life insurance, but she had not gotten around to completing a beneficiary designation form when she died in 1995.

Her insurance policies provided that they would be paid to a surviving spouse if she had not designated a beneficiary, and so the proceeds were distributed to Mr. Munson. The children’s grandparents (who took custody after Ms. Flanigan died) then filed a lawsuit to impose a constructive trust on the remaining insurance proceeds and Mr. Munson’s home, since he had used some of the proceeds to pay off his mortgage and other debts.

The trial judge denied the grandparents their requested relief, but the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed that the insurance proceeds should go to the children. It ordered the money transferred to the children’s benefit—eight years and thousands of dollars in legal fees after her death. Flanigan v. Munson, April 3, 2003.

Daniel Lambert was not so lucky. He argued that his mother’s life insurance policy should be part of her estate, and that her will specified that he was to receive a portion of that estate. Unfortunately for him, whatever his mother’s intentions might have been she had named her daughter Suella Southard as beneficiary.

Another sibling, brother Steven Powell, was prepared to testify that their mother had always intended that the life insurance policy should be used to pay the costs of handling her estate and then distributed to the children according to her will. He was not allowed to testify, however, because of a long-standing court rule prohibiting testimony about conversations with deceased persons, the so-called “Dead Man’s Statute.” The Indiana Court of Appeals refused to permit imposition of a constructive trust on the life insurance proceeds. Lambert v. Southard, April 1, 2003.

The moral: “estate planning” requires consideration of beneficiary designations and account titles as well as signing of a will, trust and powers of attorney. Even a carefully-drafted estate plan, including a will, a living trust and both financial and health care powers of attorney, can be altered or frustrated by incorrect (or missing) beneficiary designations, joint tenancies, “payable on death,” “transfer on death” or “in trust for” account titles or other, similar arrangements.

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