June 25th, 2012
Courts repeatedly remind us of the necessity to be very explicit with the language in our trust instruments. With some very narrow exceptions, the clear, unambiguous language of the instrument controls. This is sometimes referred to as being bound by the four corners of the instrument.
Our latest reminder of the need to remove all assumptions, ambiguity, or inconsistencies from estate planning documents comes to us from Ohio in WesBanco, Inc. v. Blair. Here, we had the son of the decedent claiming that the decedent’s will revoked or amended his trust thereby eliminating the decedent’s allegedly estranged girlfriend as a beneficiary under the trust. The son claimed that the decedent had reserved the right to amend or revoke the trust and he did so when he executed his will.
Seems that if the decedent and girlfriend had a falling out and they were no longer living together, the decedent probably wouldn’t have wanted her to take under the trust. The Ohio appellate court, however, determined that the trust was unaffected by the decedent’s will all because of a lack of express language in the estate planning documents. So, what could have been stated more expressly? (more…)