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Legal Memorandum: Estate Trustee's Obligation in NY

Issue: What is an Estate Trustee’s Obligation to Provide Legal Research to Beneficiary in New York?

Area of Law: Estate Planning & Probate
Keywords: Trustees obligation; Legal research
Jurisdiction: New York
Cited Cases: 16 A.D.2d 745; 197 F.Supp.2d 16; 355 A.2d 709; 227 N.Y.S.2d 203
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 11/01/2007

“Under the common law, a trustee has an obligation to provide complete and accurate information to the beneficiaries concerning the management of the trust.  This obligation encompasses disclosure of communications with an attorney that are intended to assist in the administration of the trust.” Lawrence v. Cohn 197 F.Supp.2d 16 (S.D.N.Y.2002).  The Lawrence court noted that the “‘fiduciary obligations owed by the attorney at the time he prepared the memorandum [for the trustees] were to the beneficiaries as well as to the trustees.  In effect, the beneficiaries were the clients of [the attorney] as much as the trustees were, and perhaps more so.'” Id., at 27 (quoting Riggs Nat’l Bank of Washington, D.C. v. Zimmer, 355 A.2d 709, 713-14 (Del. Ch. 1976)).

In Schlegel v. Lincoln Rochester Trust Co. (In re Schlegel’s Trust), 16 A.D.2d 745, 227 N.Y.S.2d 203 (4th Dep’t 1962), the trust beneficiary requested financial and other information regarding the “closed corporation” in which the trust held stock.  The trustees were Lincoln Rochester Trust Company and James Sproat.  Sproat was also an officer and director of the corporation.  The trustees contended that they could act independently and did not have to turn over information to the beneficiary.  The court stated that Sproat, as co-trustee, occupied a dual capacity.  “As a trustee he would owe a high degree of duty to the [beneficiary] in any event, but the fact that he acts as both an […]

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