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I say the Trust means one thing, the executor says it means something else.

Washtenaw Probate Court. The dispute in this case involves the meaning of the term "then beneficiary" in the Trust. This term defines the party or parties who are entitled to vote on the removal of a trustee and the appointment of a successor trustee. The court held that because the respondent (the decedent's sister) was not currently eligible to receive trust distributions, she was not a "then beneficiary" and thus, was not currently eligible to vote for the removal and appointment of a trustee. She essentially argued that, because she is currently a beneficiary of the trust and was a beneficiary at the time of the decedent's death, she is a "then beneficiary" entitled to vote on the removal and appointment of trustees.

The court found that if 'then beneficiary' is understood to mean 'all beneficiaries,' whether their interests are possessory or not and whether their interests are vested or contingent, then the word 'then' would have no meaning. There would never be a time after the decedent's death when all of the beneficiaries were not 'then beneficiaries.' The word 'then' would be unnecessary.

Because the word "then" deals with time, the Trust's distinction must also be based on time. By the terms of the Trust, beneficiaries are essentially treated one of two ways at any given time.  So, plainly construed, the word 'then' distinguishes between two, and only two, classes of beneficiaries-those who are currently receiving trust distributions and those who are not. Because respondent is not currently eligible to receive such distributions, she is not a "then beneficiary" and is therefore not currently eligible to vote for the removal and appointment of a trustee.

MCL 700.8201(2)(c) provides that one of the underlying purposes and policies of the MICHIGAN TRUST CODE is to foster certainty in the law so that settlors of trusts will have confidence that their instructions will be carried out as expressed in the terms of the trust.

In resolving a dispute concerning the meaning of a trust, a court's sole objective is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the settlor. The intent of the settlor is to be carried out as nearly as possible.

If a trust document is ambiguous, a court may consider the circumstances surrounding the creation of the document and the general rules of construction. The fact that litigants disagree regarding the meaning of a trust, however, does not mean that it is ambiguous.

Probate litigation is complex and requires the attention of experienced and knowledgeable counsel. Given the emotional nature of these disputes and their financial impact on all involved, it is critical that anyone involved in such a dispute retain highly qualified legal counsel.

If your family structure has changed due to a second marriage, adoption or divorce, you may need to update your estate planning documents to reflect your current wishes and needs.

PROBATE 2: Can you remove a guardian that holds power of attorney?

Under the EPIC, a “suitable” guardian is one who is qualified and able to provide for the ward’s care, custody, and control. When a preponderance of the evidence weighs against the suitability of the ward’s current choice for guardian, the probate court must remove that person as guardian.

PROBATE 1: Probate court jurisdiction versus business court jurisdiction.

In this case involving a Living Trust, the husband, appeals as of right the probate court’s order granting partial summary disposition to their daughter. The order resolved claims relating to two family businesses, declared the wife disabled, and pursuant to the terms of the trust, removed the husband as successor trustee of the trust.

REAL ESTATE 3: Can you take your neighbor’s land by Adverse Possession?

To prevail on a claim of adverse possession, plaintiffs must show that they possessed the disputed property openly, adversely, exclusively, and continuously for at least 15 years. A party making an adverse possession claim can meet the time requirement by tacking their possessory period to that of their predecessors in interest with whom they are in privity of estate.

The Basics of a Plea Bargain

A plea bargain is an agreement made between the prosecutor and the defendant in which the accused person agrees to plead guilty or no contest in exchange for the prosecutor dropping the charges or recommending a lower sentence to the judge or...

REAL ESTATE 2: Property dispute, intent is not required for a trespass.

In instances of trespass where injunctive relief and actual damages are not warranted, a plaintiff nevertheless is entitled to nominal damages. Because a trespass violates a landholder’s right to exclude others from the premises, the landholder could recover at least nominal damages even in the absence of proof of any other injury.

Bail: Getting Out of Jail After an Arrest

Being arrested in Michigan is certainly not going to be a fun experience no matter what, but it can be easier when you understand exactly what will happen and why. Find out more about how you can get out of jail by posting bond.  What are...

Invoking Your Right to Remain Silent

While the “right to remain silent” represents one of your most unassailable rights, many people have a few misconceptions about how it works. A lot of people receive their understanding of this particular right from media and...

Choosing the right executor for an estate

When people are thinking about planning their estate, they often think about trying to minimize the estate tax, keeping their will updated, and keeping items out of probate court; however, there is another important issue that people need to think...

Is an IRA marital property subject to division?

Plaintiff, age 67 at the time of divorce, and defendant, age 59 at the time of divorce, were married for 23 years. The judgment of divorce provides for a division of property. Defendant appeals arguing that the trial court erred in determining the...

Digital assets and estate planning

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Child Support Modification

Plaintiff sought an increase in child support, claiming the defendant-father's income had increased substantially, which constituted a change in circumstances. In July 2015, plaintiff filed a motion to modify child support. In that motion,...

A divorce shouldn't thwart your estate planning goals

We all know that divorce is not easy, no matter how ready you may be to get out of a troubled marriage. There are certainly emotional hurdles to overcome as you move on with life, and the financial hurdles may take longer to get over than you may...

Creditor's Rights Against Estates and Trusts

The probate court denied a petition for formal proceedings. The petition further identifies the petitioner as a "creditor" of the estate and states that "Litigation against the Estate is pending." Appellee is the widow and was...

What to know about will contests

You create an estate plan to make sure your heirs and beneficiaries are taken care of in the event you are no longer able to. You may also do so to minimize the bickering and infighting that may come between surviving family members who may have...

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