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Jaffe v. Pournaras

Superior Court of Rhode Island

June 23, 2016

WILLIAM C. POURNARAS, Trustee of the Irrevocable Living Trust of Constantine W. Pournaras, Trustee of the Constantine Pournaras Living Trust, and Personal Representative of the Estate of Constantine W. Pournaras Defendant.

          For Plaintiff: Rebecca M. Murphy, Esq.

          For Defendant: James A. Bigos, Esq.


          SILVERSTEIN, J.

         Currently before the Court are cross Motions for Summary Judgment. The Motions arise out of the interpretation of the estate planning documents executed by Constantine W. Pournaras (the decedent). Plaintiff, Elaine Jaffe (Jaffe), is the decedent's surviving daughter and Defendant, William C. Pournaras (Pournaras), is the decedent's surviving son.


         Facts and Travel

         The decedent passed away on November 10, 2012. His estate plan consisted of three documents. The first, the Constantine W. Pournaras Living Trust (the Living Trust), was created on December 2, 1993, amended and restated on August 22, 2003, and amended and restated again on October 17, 2008. The second, the Constantine W. Pournaras Irrevocable Living Trust (the Irrevocable Trust), was created on August 22, 2003. The third, the Last Will and Testament of Constantine W. Pournaras (the Will), was executed on October 17, 2008.

          The Living Trust, as restated on October 17, 2008, named the decedent as Trustor and Pournaras as Successor Trustee. It directed the Trustee to pay the decedent's residuary estate to Pournaras and further provided that "[i]f my trust own liquid resources, [the] trustee shall pay to . . . ELAINE A. JAFFE[] the sum of Fifty-Thousand ($50, 000) Dollars from those liquid resources." The Second Amendment and Restatement of the Living Trust, Article IV, Section 1.b.

         The Irrevocable Trust similarly named the decedent as Trustor, but named Pournaras as Initial Trustee rather than Successor Trustee. Upon the decedent's death, the Trustee of the Irrevocable Trust was directed to divide "into separate and equal shares . . . all of the Trust Estate not previously distributed, " Irrevocable Trust, Article VIII, Section 1, and to "create one share for each of [the decedent's] then living children, " id. at Section 1.a.

         The Irrevocable Trust also reserved to the decedent the power, "exercisable by written instrument during [his] lifetime or by Will or any Codicil thereto, to appoint any part or all of the Trust Estate to or for the benefit of any of [his] descendants, in equal or unequal amounts, either directly or in Trust, as [he] may direct." Id. at Article IV, Section 2. This "limited power of appointment" was not to be exercised "in favor of [the decedent's] estate, the creditors of [his] estate or in any way that would result in any economic benefit to [the decedent]."[1] Id.

         The Will directed the decedent's Personal Representative to "distribute [the decedent's] residuary estate to the then acting Trustee of the . . . Living Trust." Last Will and Testament, Section 6.01. The Will defined the decedent's residuary estate as "any property over which [he] may have a power of appointment and any insurance proceeds which may be payable to [his] estate, less all valid claims asserted against [his] estate and all expenses incurred in administering [his] estate, including expenses of administering non-probate assets and expenses of determining any tax occasioned by [his] death." Id. at Section 5.01.

         In January 2014, Pournaras filed a Petition for Probate of the Will in the City of Cranston Probate Court. The Will was admitted for Probate, and Pournaras was appointed Personal Representative of the estate. Shortly thereafter, Jaffe brought her Declaratory Judgment action.

         In her Complaint, Jaffe alleged that Pournaras intends to "recognize . . . Article Four, Section 2 provision of the Irrevocable Trust as a valid exercise of the Limited Power of Appointment, "[2] Complaint ¶ 25, and will "transfer assets from the Irrevocable Trust to [the decedent's] estate, " id. Jaffe further alleged that this "contravenes [the decedent's] clear and unequivocal intention as expressed in Article Four, Section 2 of the Irrevocable Trust, " id. at ¶ 26, "is contrary to . . . applicable law, " id., and "would deprive [her] of her entire inheritance . . . with the exception of the $50, 000 gift she is to receive under the terms of the Living Trust, " id. at ¶ 27. Jaffe has asked this Court to rule that the decedent's limited power of appointment has not been properly exercised, and to grant summary judgment in her favor as to the construction of the testamentary instruments. Jaffe also asks the Court to remove Pournaras as Trustee of the Irrevocable Trust and to issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting Pournaras from transferring the assets of the Irrevocable Trust into the decedent's estate.[3]

         In his Counterclaim, Pournaras alleged that "[t]he inclusion of the language provisions of Section 5.01 of the [Will] was an intentional and planned exercise of that limited power of appointment contained within Article IV, Section II of the [Irrevocable Trust]." Counterclaim at ¶ 17. Pournaras then requested, in his capacity as Personal Representative of the decedent's estate and as Trustee of the Irrevocable Trust, a judgment declaring that the Will contains a ...

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