Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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Bank of America, N.A., in its capacity as a corporate trustee of several inter vivos trusts, applied for abatement of fiduciary income taxes paid by thirty-four inter vivos trusts. The Commissioner of Revenue denied the applications. The Bank appealed, arguing that, where the Bank was not domiciled in Massachusetts, these trusts did not qualify as “resident inter vivos trusts” and therefore were not subject to fiduciary income tax under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 62, 10. The Appellate Tax Board upheld the Commissioner’s decision, concluding that the Bank, in its capacity as trustee, was an inhabitant of the Commonwealth within the meaning of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 62, 1(f) and 10(c). The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the Board did not err in ruling that the Bank was subject to the fiduciary income tax imposed by section 10. View "Bank of America, N.A. v. Comm’r of Revenue" on Justia Law

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The trustees of the Hollis W. Plimpton, Jr. Family Trust filed a complaint seeking a declaration that the trust as drafted correctly expressed the intent to the settlor that his estate be eligible to obtain the optimal benefit of allowable federal and state estate tax marital deductions. Alternatively, the trustees sought an order rewording a portion of the trust to ensure that it accomplished the settlor’s intent. The Supreme Judicial Court ordered that a judgment enter in the county court declaring that this was not a suitable occasion for the type of relief sought and dismissing the complaint, as the apparent objective of the parties - to insure by declaration or reformation that no person in the future misconstrues the document - is not something that justifies judicial involvement. View "Bank of Am., N.A. v. Babcock" on Justia Law
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George C. Houser established the George C. Houser Trust, which established two trusts for the benefit of Mary R. Houser during her lifetime and gave her a power of appointment over one of the trusts (the marital trust). Upon Mary’s death in 1993, the principal remaining in the George C. Houser Trust was divided into two share trusts, one for each of the Housers’ sons. After George’s death in 1983, Mary established the Mary R. Houser Trust - 1991 and exercised her power of appointment over the marital trust property by appointing it to the trustees of the Mary Houser Trust. The trustees filed a complaint seeking reformation the trust established under Article Fourth of the Mary R. Houser Trust - 1991 to correct a drafting error that they contended frustrated the intent of Mary and George to provide for their descendants in an efficient and tax-advantageous manner. The Supreme Judicial Court ordered that the family trust be reformed by correcting the mistake in drafting, which inadvertently frustrated Mary’s estate planning objectives. View "Connell v. Houser" on Justia Law
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The City of Quincy (Quincy) served as trustee of the Adams Temple and School Fund and the Charles Francis Adams Fund (together, the Funds) through two boards. The Woodward School for Girls, Inc. (Woodward) has been the sole income beneficiary of the Funds since 1953. In 2007, Woodward filed suit against Quincy seeking an accounting and asserting that Quincy committed a breach of its fiduciary duties in several respects. A probate and family court judge concluded that Quincy committed a breach of its fiduciary duties by failing to invest in growth securities and failing to heed certain investment advice, removed Quincy as trustee, and ordered Quincy to pay a nearly $3 million judgment. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment as to liability, reversed with respect to the calculation of damages on the unrealized gains, and remanded, holding (1) Woodward’s claims were not barred on the grounds of sovereign immunity, the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, or laches; (2) the judgment against Quincy for committing a breach of its fiduciary duties to the Funds was proper; (3) the award of damages was erroneous in the calculation of unrealized gains on the investment portfolio; and (4) the judge did not err in including prejudgment interest. View "Woodward School for Girls, Inc. v. City of Quincy" on Justia Law

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In 1982, Plaintiff established the 1982 Trust, and four separate subtrusts therein, for the four sons of the Krafts. In 2012, Plaintiff, who had served as the sole and disinterested trustee of the trust and subtrusts, proposed to transfer all of the property of the subtrusts into new subtrusts established in accordance with the terms of a new master trust for the benefit of the Kraft sons. Plaintiff asked the Supreme Court to interpret the 1982 Trust to determine whether it authorized distributions to the new trust without the consent or approval of any beneficiary or court. The Supreme Court concluded that it did, holding that the terms of the 1982 Trust authorized Plaintiff to distribute the trust property in further trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the 1982 Trust without their consent or court approval. View "Morse v. Kraft" on Justia Law

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John Marino, who died before this action, owned Corporation. Defendant sold equipment to Corporation, which failed to pay Defendant. Defendant obtained a default judgment against Corporation but was unable to enforce the judgment because Corporation had no assets. Defendant brought an action against Marino's estate, the executrix of Marino's estate, and another corporation owned by Marino, asserting claims for breach of contract, remedies under the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA), violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, unjust enrichment, and fraud. Defendants filed a joint motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that none of the claims survived, as each claim arose from fraudulent acts or misrepresentations made by Marino. A superior court judge dismissed all claims against the estate. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the breach of contract, UFTA, and violations of Chapter 93A claims should not have been dismissed because the claims were contractual in nature; (2) the fraud claim was properly dismissed; and (3) the unjust enrichment claim should not have been dismissed because it was premised on the allegation that the executrix was retaining funds belonging to Defendant. Remanded. View "Kraft Power Corp. v. Merrill" on Justia Law

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The trustee of a trust established by Carol Vollmer (settlor) commenced this action in the probate and family court seeking reformation of the trust to comply with certain provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. A judge in that court reported the case to the appeals court, and the Supreme Court granted the trustee's application for direct appellate review. The Court then concluded that the trust should be reformed as requested, holding that reformation was warranted on this record because the proposed reformations would conform to the settlor's intent and would not be adverse to any person's or entity's interests under the trust instrument. View "Rockland Trust Co. v. Attorney Gen." on Justia Law

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In 1941, Anna Child Bird executed a will with a testamentary trust that benefitted her sons, her grandsons, and their issue. At the time the will was executed, the law provided that an adopted child was excluded from the definition of "child." In 1958, the statute was amended to redefine the term "child" to include an adopted child. By its terms, however, the 1958 amendment applied only to testamentary instruments executed after 1958. In 2009, another amendment made the 1958 amendment applicable to all testamentary instruments regardless of when executed. Plaintiff was the biological great-grandchild of Anna, and Plaintiff had two adopted brothers. Plaintiff's father was a biological grandson of Anna. Plaintiff had been receiving income distribution from the testamentary trust established by Anna in her will. The Supreme Court concluded that the retroactive application of the 2009 amendment to Anna's trust, with the effect that Plaintiff's interest in the trust would be divided into three parts to cover her and her two adopted brothers, was unconstitutional. Remanded. View "Anderson v. BNY Mellon, N.A." on Justia Law

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In a proceeding under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code, a question arose concerning the application of the Commonwealth's homestead protection statute, G.L.c. 188, section 1, to a beneficiary of a trust. Finding no controlling precedent in the court's decisions, the Bankruptcy Court judge certified the following question: "May the holder of a beneficial interest in a trust which holds title to real estate and attendant dwelling in which such beneficiary resides acquire an estate of homestead in said land and building under G.L.c. 188, section 1?" The court confined its answer to the 2004 version of the homestead statute and answered the certified question in the negative. The court rejected the debtor's claims and concluded that even though the debtor resided in the Lowell property and used it as her home, as the owner of a fifty percent beneficial interest in the trust that holds to the property but who did not direct or control the trustee, she could not validly claim a homestead exemption for the property under the 2004 act. View "Boyle v. Weiss" on Justia Law

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This case concerned a family dispute over ownership of what had been the family home in Woburn. At issue was whether a party could establish that she lacked the capacity to contract, thus making the contract voidable by her, in the absence of evidence that she suffered from a medically diagnosed, long-standing mental illness or defect. The court concluded that its evolving standard of contractual incapacity did not in all cases require proof that a party's claimed mental illness or defect was of some significant duration or that it was permanent, progressive, or degenerative; but, without medical evidence or expert testimony that the mental condition interfered with the party's understanding of the transaction, or her ability to act reasonably in relation to it, the evidence would not be sufficient to support a conclusion of incapacity. In this case, the evidence was insufficient to support a determination of incapacity where Susan, among other things, understood at the time that she was participating in a mediation to discuss settlement of the lawsuit, was aware that the subject of the mediation was to resolve the dispute regarding the family home, participated in the mediation, and listened to the arguments of counsel. Therefore, the court vacated the motion judge's order and remanded for entry of an order enforcing the settlement agreement. View "Sparrow v. Demonico & another" on Justia Law