The Second Department, reversing Surrogate’s Court, determined the 1992 agreement substituting life insurance for trust assets was covered by Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) 11-1.7(a)(1) and the trustee, which owned the policies, was liable in negligence for failing to ensure the premiums were paid (the policies had lapsed). The provision of the trust-asset-substitution agreement exonerating the trustee from liability was invalid as against public policy. The matter was remitted for a determination of damages:
The Surrogate’s Court found that the 1992 agreement created a “new trust agreement” funded in part by the life insurance policies, which was not part of the testamentary trust, and therefore not governed by EPTL 11-1.7(a). The court further found that the agreement released the trustee from any promises relating to “the substitution of property,” which relieved the trustee of any “liability to monitor the investment owed to the trust,” released the trustee and any successor trustee “from any future lawsuit,” and released the trustee of any fiduciary duty to act upon Robert’s default in paying insurance premiums.
Contrary to the conclusion of the Surrogate’s Court, the agreement did not create a new trust. Rather, the agreement provided for the substitution of testamentary trust property with life insurance policies. The petitioner included the life insurance policies in its final account of the testamentary trusts as worthless assets. There is no reference to any separate accounting for the life insurance policies as part of a separate trust. Thus, the duty of the trustee was governed by EPTL 11-1.7(a)(1), which states that the exoneration of a testamentary trustee from liability for failure to exercise reasonable care, diligence, and prudence is contrary to public policy. Matter of Wilkinson, 2020 NY Slip Op 00286, Second Dept 1-15-20