Probate & Trust Law

Dawn T. Christoffersen, Esquire
Bhavik R. Patel, Esquire
Mara Ising

A fiduciary has standing to appeal on behalf of a beneficiary aggrieved by a court’s decision but has no standing to appeal based on the fiduciary’s own personal interests. In the Matter of Knichel, No. 95909 (Mo. App. E.D., August 16, 2011), Ahrens, P.J.

Charles Amen appealed the decision of the probate court relating to a dispute over the trust assets of decedent, William Knichel, between Knichel’s companion and his children. Amen sought to appeal the probate court’s finding that Amen breached his fiduciary duties to the children as beneficiaries. The appellate court first analyzed whether Amen had standing to appeal such a decision as a threshold question.  Amen argued he was an aggrieved party under § 512.020, RSMo, because under the probate court’s decision, Amen lost his appointment as co-trustee, and consequently fees that would be paid to him. Additionally, Amen argued the probate court’s decision would have a negative impact upon his professional reputation.

Held:  Appeal dismissed. The appellate court concluded that Amen did not have standing under § 512.020. Amen’s appeal was based on his own interests and not the interest of the beneficiaries of Knichel’s trust. The trustee, in essence, may appeal a decision of the probate court only if the decision adversely impacts the interest of the beneficiaries.

Beneficiaries of a trust are not entitled to an accounting of trust transactions that occur prior to the death of the settlor of a trust. In re Stephen M. Gunther Revocable Living Trust, No. 96088 (Mo. App. E.D., October 4, 2011), Mooney, J.

Plaintiffs appeal the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment to the Trustee of Stephen Gunther’s Trust. The beneficiaries of the trust filed a petition for accounting of the trust from its inception until its amendment and from the time Stephen Gunter died until present. The circuit court concluded that the beneficiaries were not entitled to such an accounting of trust transactions that occurred prior to the settlor’s death.

Affirmed. A beneficiary is not entitled to an accounting of the administration of the trust for the time period in which the settlor of the trust is still alive. Where the trust is revocable and the settlor has capacity, the settlor controls the rights of the beneficiaries and the trustee owes fiduciary duties only to the settlor, as the sole beneficiary, who maintains the power to revoke, amend, or otherwise alter the trust.