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WILLS AND TRUST 10: THE TRIAL COURT DID NOT ERR IN GRANTING APPELLEE’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY DISPOSITION

PERTINENT FACTS

This case concerns a dispute regarding the disbursement of Lakeside Trust Number 1 (“Lakeside Trust”), a trust created by appellee in relation to her mother’s trust, the EJA Trust . The grantor and settlor of the EJA Trust, in Article Fourteen of the Fifth Amendment to the EJA Trust, identified Fifth Third Bank & Trust Company (Fifth Third) as Settlor’s successor trustee. Settlor amended her trust in 2012. In the Sixth Amendment to the EJA Trust, she directed her successor trustee upon her death to divide the balance of the EJA Trust estate into equal shares to be distributed to her children. Settlor further directed the successor trustee to place one of the beneficiary’s share, if he survived Settlor into a separate trust for his benefit. The EJA amendment in relevant part directed:  The Trustee of the beneficiary’s trust shall invest all the trust assets in a federally insured financial institution and disburse to Jerrold such portions of interest and principal as the Trustee, in their sole and absolute discretion, determines. The Trustee is further authorized to distribute nothing to beneficiary if the Trustee determines, in their sole and absolute discretion, that it is not in Jerrold’s best interest to receive any such funds, and in such case, the Trustee is authorized to terminate the trust and disburse all trust assets, whether it be principal, interest, or income, to my surviving children at the time Jerrold’s trust is terminated, share and share alike. In the event there are assets in the beneficiary’s trust at the time of the beneficiary’s death, the Trustee shall disburse all remaining assets held in trust to my surviving children at the time of beneficiary’s death, share and share alike.

Appellant asserted that he received $66,878.67, but remained entitled to receive an additional $50,783.53. Appellee moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) on the grounds that the law did not support appellant’s claims because the Lakeside Trust remained revocable and her sole duty as trustee was owed exclusively to the settlor, herself, under MCL 700.7603(1). Appellee asserted that the Lakeside Trust would become irrevocable only upon the death of appellee. The trial court found that “no factual development could possibly justify recovery” and granted appellee’s motion for summary disposition. The trial court also found that appellee made the distribution appropriately under both the EJA Trust and the Lakeside Trust . Appellee responded that appellant had not established his entitlement to reconsideration because appellant had not demonstrated that the court or the partiers were misled by a palpable error and that a different disposition of the motion must result from such error. The trial court concluded that appellant’s motion for reconsideration was not well-grounded in fact or law and failed to meet the requirements of MCR 2.119(F). The trial court ruled that appellant’s receipt of $66,878.67, amounted to all to which appellant was entitled.

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

A trial court’s grant of a motion for summary disposition is de novo to determine if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A trial court’s interpretation of a trust agreement is also reviewed de novo.

ANALYSIS

 Appellant argues that the trial court erred when it granted summary disposition in favor of appellee. “A court must ascertain and give effect to the settlor’s intent when resolving a dispute concerning the meaning of a trust.” The record reflects that appellee created the Lakeside Trust on June 19, 2013, to fulfill the directive set forth in the EJA Trust. She identified herself as the grantor and settlor of the Lakeside Trust, appointed herself as trustee, and reserved for herself broad discretionary rights to control the Lakeside Trust’s assets and to revoke the trust in her sole discretion. Paragraph 4 specified the purpose of the trust which language mirrored the provisions of the EJA Trust that directed the beneficiary’s trust’s trustee to make discretionary disbursement of trust assets to the beneficiary during his lifetime, and upon his death that the trust would terminate, whereupon the trust’s assets would be disbursed equally to Settlor’s surviving children.  Four of the Settlor’s children remained alive at the time of the beneficiary’s death which terminated the Lakeside Trust requiring the distribution of its assets. According to the terms of the EJA Trust, the assets of the Lakeside Trust were to be disbursed in equal amounts to Settlor’s four surviving children. Distribution of the Lakeside Trust’s assets totaling $276,895.24 equally between Settlor’s four surviving children would have required that each child receive $69,223.81. The trial court explained that the undisputed value of the Lakeside Trust at the time of its termination amounted to approximately $277,000, which when divided by four approximately equaled the amount appellee distributed minus the $10,000 certificate of deposit that remained deposited until its maturity date. The trial court confirmed that, upon maturity of the certificate of deposit, each of Settlor’s surviving children will receive an additional equal distribution of the proceeds which amounts to $2,500. When added to the amount already distributed to each of Settlor’s surviving children, each child will receive a total of $69,378.67. That amount comports with the directive of the EJA Trust.

CONCLUSION

Appellee correctly distributed the assets of the Lakeside Trust. The trial court, therefore, did not err by granting appellee summary disposition. Appellant failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Further, the trial court did not err by denying appellant’s motion for reconsideration which made a legally defective argument and failed to demonstrate that the trial court committed a palpable error requiring a different disposition of the case.

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