T&E Litigation Newsletter - 10/12/12

October 2012Advisories

In Rockland Trust Company v. Attorney General, Case No. SJC-11257 (Oct. 11, 2012), the Supreme Judicial Court allowed the requested reformation of a trust.

The settlor died in 2006. The trust provides that upon the settlor’s death, the income is to be used to fund one or two scholarships of $10,000 to students at Scituate High School. Any income not distributed as scholarships is to be added to principal.

The trustee proposed to reform the trust in two ways. First, the trustee sought to include language in the trust evincing the settlor’s general (as opposed to specific) charitable intent, thereby allowing the trust to qualify as a private charitable foundation and thus be exempt from income tax. Otherwise the trust would have to pay income tax at a high marginal rate, thus reducing the income available to distribute as scholarships. Second, the trustee sought to amend the requirement that any income not distributed as one or two scholarships of $10,000 be added to principal, because undistributed income retained by a private foundation is taxed at the rate of 100%. Again, this tax would reduce the amount available for scholarships.

Based on the evidence in the record, which included an affidavit from the drafting attorney and affidavits from two of the settlor’s friends who attested to her charitable donations and volunteer work, the Court found that the trust’s failure to reflect the settlor’s general charitable intent was a scrivener’s error. The Court also found that imposing a tax on the undistributed income retained in the trust would defeat the settlor’s intent to have as much of the trust income as possible used for scholarships.

Accordingly, the Court held that the trust shall be reformed to include the requested language evincing the settlor’s general charitable intent, and to amend the requirement that the scholarships be limited to one or two in the amount of $10,000, with the undistributed income added to principal. The amended language will read as follows: “If the Distributable Funds exceed Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000), the Distributable Funds shall be divided into a number of scholarships in equal amounts, provided, however, that each scholarship must be at least Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000).”

This update was authored by Mark Swirbalus, a Director in the firm's Probate & Fiduciary Litigation group. For questions or additional information on this topic, please contact Mark at [email protected] or contact any member of the Probate & Fiduciary Litigation group.

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