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WILLS/TRUSTS 31: Petitioner disputes transfers to trust and filed petitions to have the funds and property returned to her.

Decedent created a noncharitable, irrevocable trust (the Trust) to provide for the benefit and welfare of himself and his wife, appellant EC. The trust named respondent as trustee and provided that he would have the sole discretion to distribute any trust income or principal to the beneficiaries. EC was the primary beneficiary, and upon her death, her son, appellant DLC, would become the sole beneficiary. On DLC’s death, if the trust had not been completely distributed, the remainder would be distributed to respondent. Decedent died and the probate court removed respondent from his position as trustee to avoid a conflict of interest.

Bank/Real Estate Transfers

During the decedent’s life and after the Trust’s creation, funds from two jointly held PNC bank accounts were transferred into the Trust. Additionally, EC met with the decedent’s lawyer and signed deeds transferring real property into the Trust. EC disputes these transfers and filed petitions to have the funds and property returned to her, arguing that she did not understand what she was doing when she transferred the real property and that respondent improperly transferred the PNC accounts for his own benefit.

Probate Court

The probate court found that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the decedent desired that the funds to pass to EC upon his death or whether he desired for those funds to be placed within the Trust and paid out to EC to care for her after his death. Additionally, after an evidentiary hearing held on the same day, the trial court found that EC had failed to show that the transfers—of real property and the funds in the PNC accounts—should be voided, so it denied the petition to return real property and the petition to return the funds from the PNC accounts.

Undue Influence or Interference

The court found no basis to void the transfers based on EC’s evidence. Based on her testimony, the probate court had evidence to support the finding that EC did know what she had signed and the effects of it but simply did not remember. There was no evidence of undue influence or interference from others, and there is no indication that respondent was present or involved to exert undue influence. Furthermore, petitioner’s poor memory and testimony supported the finding that petitioner did not meet her burden to show why the transfers should be voided.

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Trusts are one of the most used estate planning documents and can serve a variety of purposes. Different types of trusts may be used to protect assets, minimize probate costs, minimize exposure to estate taxes and achieve other significant benefits. We draft a variety of trusts to help our clients with their estate objectives.

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