Brief Fact Summary. Defendant Heirs at Law (Defendants) appealed a lower court ruling that upon the death of Testator Vincent Fiore (Testator), the rest, residue, and remainder of Testator’s trust vested in the nephew trustee, Joseph A. DiBiaso (Trustee), and the remainderman designated in his will.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A testator’s omission of any substitute beneficiary who would take upon a trustee’s death evidences an intent to grant an indefeasibly vested remainder interest to the trustee and his estate.
This court's primary objective when construing language in a will or trust is to ascertain and effectuate the intent of the testator or settlor as long as that intent is not contrary to law.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Did the Superior Court err in holding that a bequest of the rest, residue, and remainder of Deceased’s trust, subject to a beneficial life estate, vests in the remainder beneficiary upon Deceased’s death and should the Superior Court have instead found that the trust res reverts to the estate if the remainderman predeceases the life tenants?
Held. No. The Superior Court properly held that a bequest of the rest, residue, and remainder of Deceased’s trust, subject to a beneficial life estate, vested in the remainder beneficiary upon Deceased’s death. The Superior Court was correct in holding that the trust res does not revert to the estate if the remainderman predeceased the beneficiary life tenants of the estate. If the Testator had desired a reversion of the remainder in the event that he predeceased the life tenants, then he could have clearly indicated this with language in the will or a codicil. The Testator did not do this. The Testator stated that after specific distributions from the trust, the Trustee was to use the rest, residue, and remainder of the estate “individually for his sole use free and clear of Trust.” This language indicates the Testator’s clear intent that upon vesting of Trustee’s interest, he would no longer be merely the trustee of the property, but its outright owner. The Testator’s omission of a
ny substitute beneficiary who would take upon the trustee’s death evidences an intent to grant an indefeasibly vested remainder interest to the trustee and his estate.
Discussion. The goal of the Court is to determine testamentary intent. Here the Court relies upon the principle favoring immediate vesting of remainders and determines that the language of the will that refers to the “individual” use of the trust for the “sole” and “free” benefit of Trustee indicates an intention not to create a contingent remainder.