Breach of Duty: A fiduciary will be removed

A fiduciary will be removed for breach of fiduciary duty in mishandling the assets of an estate or trust, failing to account, or for engaging in self-dealing As a fiduciary, an Executor of Trustee is guided by the following duties to the beneficiaries: duty of undivided loyalty; duty of impartially, a fiduciary is precluded from favoring one beneficiary over another; duty to act within the scope of his powers, to inform the beneficiaries of matters which effect the trust or estate and to administer the trust or estate solely in the interest of the beneficiaries; duty to make a full disclosure to the beneficiaries upon request; and fiduciaries must take all steps reasonable necessary for the management, protection and preservation of the estate in their possession. The Court has authority to remove a fiduciary if he fails to account or embezzles, wastes, or misapplies any part of the estate for which the fiduciary is responsible, or abuses the trust and confidence reposed in the fiduciary. The Court may also remove a fiduciary for acts done in breach of the trust or detrimental to the welfare of the trust, for lack of honesty or reasonable fidelity to the trust, for acts […]

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Confidential Relationship Existence

An Undue Influence Case Often Turns on Whether There Exists a Confidential Relationship between Donor and Donee While the Multi-Party Claims Act (N.J.S.A. 17:16I-5) creates a presumption of validity of the naming of beneficiaries of a joint, POD or in trust for account, the terms of the statute can be overcome upon establishing that the naming of beneficiaries of the account was the product of undue influence. Courts have found that once a confidential relationship is established between the owner of the account and the named beneficiary, the burden of proof shifts to the beneficiary of the account to establish that the account was the product of the owner’s free will. In analyzing the question of a confidential relationship, the Ostlund decision is directly on point. Estate of Ostlund v. Ostlund, 391 N.J. Super. 390 (App. Div. 2007). And the factors to be considered in analyzing whether a confidential relationship exists include: whether trust and confidence between the parties actually exist; whether they are dealing on terms of equality; whether one side has superior knowledge of the details and effect of a proposed transaction based on a fiduciary relationship; whether one side has exerted over-mastering influence over the other; and

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The Michael Jackson Estate

Is This It? Every generation has its icons. We have People magazine, TMZ and the Enquirer to expose our superstars and their atypical lifestyles. Some are worshipped like a deity; their every move chronicled and criticized in the tabloids – until the stardom so desperately sought – becomes a curse and the fall from grace so painful. We’ve lost many superstars, but the loss of Michael Jackson was different – it was like losing a family member. We knew as children Michael Jackson was a star. Sitting on bean bags, we watched the Jackson Five cartoons and listened to “Rockin’ Robin”, “I’ll Be There” and “Ben” over and over again on the eight track tape player. As teenagers we thought Michael having a pet chimpanzee named Bubbles was the coolest thing. Some are good dancers – but he was a dancing machine. Who didn’t look ridiculous trying to emulate his patented Moonwalk? Who didn’t buy some vinyl when “Bad” was released? As a young man, I didn’t know what MTV was, until I watched “Thriller” and “Billie Jean”. That Halloween, all you needed was one white glove, some cuffed pants and loafers. As parents, our techno savvy children – over

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Nina Wang – A Sweet and Sour Legacy

If you’re talking about kidnapping, ransom, murder, forged Wills and the richest woman in Hong Kong – then you’d be talking about Nina Wang. Richer than the Queen of England and more colorful than Madonna, this eccentric billionaire could be seen around town wearing plaid miniskirts and pigtails dyed electric blue. No swank sushi bar for this parsimonious celebrity, she lived on a salary of $400 a month and was a regular at McDonalds. She was so popular among the masses that she was dubbed “Little Sweetie” for her likeness to a much loved Japanese cartoon character. Born as Kung Yu Sum in 1937, she grew up in Shanghai with her childhood friend Teddy Wang. Teddy’s father, Wang Din-shin, owned a paint and chemical company, and after Teddy’s family fled Shanghai during the revolution and moved to Hong Kong, Teddy sent for her. Though Teddy’s family never liked her, because supposedly, she was stubborn and could not cook, the two nevertheless married in 1955. Nina was only 18-years-young. They worked tirelessly together, never had children and built the chemical and pharmaceutical company, Chinachem, into a one of the largest private property developers in all of Hong Kong. As is so

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Lessons from the Leona Helmsley Estate

The Benevolent Queen of Mean When billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley died on August 7, 2007 at the age of 87, there were no prayer vigils outside her hotels nor did the masses tearfully gather in her send off.  Instead, both big people and little people alike read the headlines which trumpeted that the wicked witch was dead.  The reflections and remembrances all seemed to vilify the “Queen of Mean,” and recounted her tyrannical behavior, her  mistreatment of employees and her stint in jail for tax fraud. Once her Last Will and Testament was made public, her dog, “Trouble”, captured the headlines. But lost in the media blitz was an enormous act of goodwill. Leona gave back, in mammoth proportions to charitable causes  which will likely fund hospitals, health care providers, museums, schools, medical research and yes, animals, in perpetuity.  Such largess didn’t grab the headlines.  Were such acts of benevolence an attempt to curry favor with our Maker, or to spite individuals who wouldn’t inherit the motherload? Did she only seek to reduce her estate tax liability or was she truly philanthropic? In the end, only she knows. But if homeless families have shelter, if cures for diseases are discovered,

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The Astor Disaster: A Legacy of Influence and Undue Influence

Just how un-entitled to the Astor fortunes was Anthony Marshall? Consider that John Jacob Astor, the nation’s first multi-millionaire had earned his fortune the old fashioned way, through hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit, and perseverance.  First, he built an international fur trading empire.  Then, he turned his attention and resources to buying New York City properties – lots of New York City properties. He bought so many that when he died in 1848, his estate was valued at over $20,000,000 – back when that was real money. His son, William Backhouse Astor, Sr., though not the dynamo his father had been, managed and preserved the properties such that at the time of his death in 1875, he was one of the wealthiest men in America – leaving an estate of over $50,000,000. By the time his sons, John Jacob Astor, III, and William Backhouse, Jr., assumed the helm of the Astor riches, the family aristocracy, now in its third generation, was firmly entrenched in the world of arts, philanthropy, and social circles befitting only to royalty. Most notable in the fourth generation of the Astor influence was John Jacob Astor, IV who, during his first marriage, fathered Vincent Astor and

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Probate Wars – the Anna Nicole Smith Probate Saga

Stripping and Being Stripped Vickie Lynn Marshall stunned everyone when she died unexpectedly in February 2007 at the age of 39. Her death, like her life, ignited a firestorm of media coverage. Having a hard time remembering just who Vickie Lynn Marshall was? That’s probably because you know her better for her colorful professional career…as an iconic sex symbol. In the 1990’s she epitomized the definition of a blonde bombshell. Her curves seared the pages of Playboy Magazine leaving little to the imagination, and in 1993 she captured the Playmate of the Year title, solidifying her as an American sex icon. Hers was the face of Guess Jeans and her image appeared in magazines, on television, and in numerous modeling ads. If you are still struggling to figure out who she was, perhaps you knew her by her professional name: Anna Nicole Smith. Vickie Lynn Marshall – widely (and hereinafter) known as Anna Nicole Smith – may have grabbed national attention as a model, but she stole the media spotlight in 1994 when, at the age of 26, she married elderly 89-year-old self made billionaire, J. Howard Marshall, II. Marshall, a Yale law school graduate earned his money the old

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A Legacy at Risk: Estate Planning versus Estate Litigation

Introduction Having drafted estate plans for a large cross-section of families and having resolved contested estate disputes for decades, I could not help but notice that there are themes and recurring fact patterns that could ultimately, depending in part upon the efficacy of the estate plan, mean the difference between eternal peace and a great divide. These recurring patterns are constants in virtually every estate battle. Those who spend time clearly expressing their intentions to their trusted advisors, and then execute the appropriate estate planning documents, are more likely to have survivors who will peacefully mourn the death of a loved one and amicably share in the decedent’s legacy. Conversely, those who do not clearly express their intentions to their trusted advisors, and do not have estate plans tailored to the needs of their family, will likely have survivors who do not grieve normally and cannot embrace the decedent’s legacy because they are consumed with litigating over it. But likelihoods aside, it is the following six recurring fact patterns that are the universal sparks to almost every probate litigation fire: A second marriage with children from prior marriages; An elderly, infirm widow or widower who changed the disposition of their

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Legacy of a Lifetime

Estate & Trust Litigation There are certain universal truths. Your life is unique. Yet at the same time, we all share so many basic values: to love and be loved; to work hard, to give back, to be empathetic and to be the best we can be. But we’re only human and we all make mistakes. We all laugh, we all cry, and we all die. But when our time’s up, we hope that we’ll be more than just dust in the wind; that our lives matter, that we left a mark and we’ll be remembered for that which made us special. How will you be remembered? As a kind soul, a dedicated parent and a loving spouse? Perhaps your legacy will be defined by a lifetime of achievements, or maybe your loved ones will reminisce about your infectious laugh or loyal demeanor. Your journey is unique, but at the end of the day, we all hope to leave a meaningful legacy. But there are certain universal truths. The loss of a loved one typically leaves the survivors in tears. Sometimes family members grieve together and by tearfully sharing in the legacy of the deceased; their mourning is eased. But

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New Jersey Appellate Refuses Damages

The New Jersey Appellate Division refuses to impose damages on influencer despite clear finding of undue influence In a decision of the New Jersey Appellate Division in the seminal Stockdale Will Contest case (196 N.J. 275 (2008)), the Court refused to impose compensatory or punitive damages against the influencer, Ronald Sollitto, or his attorney, Anthony Casale, despite the finding of undue influence surrounding Stockdale’s Will and the transfer of her home to Sollitto. In the underlying Will contest, the Spring Lake First Aid Squad, a beneficiary under Stockdale’s prior Will, successfully challenged as a product of undue influence Decedent’s 2000 Will and the inter vivos sale/transfer of her house to Sollitto.  The trial Court admitted a prior Will to probate, rescinded the sale of the house to Sollitto, and awarded punitive damages of $1.174 million in legal fees incurred by the Squad against Sollitto and Casale.  On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the award of punitive damages and instead ordered the Squad’s fees paid from the Estate. The Supreme Court granted certification and ultimately agreed that the counsel fees were not recoverable as a form of punitive damages, distinguishing the case from In re Niles.  The Supreme Court also held

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