Probate, trust, guardianship and inheritance litigation
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When Does The New York Surrogate’s Court Have Personal Jurisdiction Over a Trustee?

In Matter of Murad Irrevocable Trust, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department made quick work of the question of personal jurisdiction over a trustee in New York Surrogate’s Court.

In Murad, a trust litigation case, the respondent appealed from an order denying his motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (8) for lack of personal jurisdiction.

In the petition, the settlor and beneficiary of the trust (decedent) sought an accounting and removal of respondent, a Virginia resident, as trustee. The trust was created in 1996 in New Jersey. At the time the trust was created, decedent was a resident of Illinois and respondent was a resident of Georgia. Respondent administered the trust from Georgia until he relocated to Virginia, and he administered the trust from Virginia thereafter.

Decedent relocated to New York in 2016. Solely as a consequence of decedent’s choice of residence, respondent sent to New York occasional trust-related correspondence, including “five or six” checks disbursing trust assets.

Trust litigation was initiated in New York against the trustee, a resident of Virginia. The trustee argued that the New York Surrogate’s Court erred by denying the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Lack Of Requisite Minimum Contacts = Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Over Trustee In New York Surrogate’s Court

The New York Supreme Court agreed with the trustee that the Surrogate’s Court lacked personal jurisdiction over the trustee and should have dismissed the suit:

“Due process requires that a nondomiciliary have ‘certain minimum contacts’ with the forum and ‘that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice’ ” (Williams v Beemiller, Inc., 33 NY3d 523, 528 [2019], quoting International Shoe Co. v Washington, 326 US 310, 316 [1945]). A nondomiciliary has minimum contacts with New York if he or she “purposefully avails” himself or herself of “the privilege of conducting activities within” New York (LaMarca v Pak-Mor Mfg. Co., 95 NY2d 210, 216 [2000] [internal quotation marks omitted]), thereby ” ‘invoking the benefits and protections’ ” of New York’s laws (Williams, 33 NY3d at 528, quoting Hanson v Denckla, 357 US 235, 253 [1958]). Our focus is on ” ‘the relationship among the [respondent], the forum, and the litigation’ ” (Calder v Jones, 465 US 783, 788 [1984], quoting Shaffer v Heitner, 433 US 186, 204 [1977]; see Williams, 33 NY3d at 529). We conclude that respondent lacks the requisite minimum contacts with the New York forum. He does not live, own property, or conduct business in New York. The first and only relationship that New York had to the subject trust was 20 years after its creation, when decedent became domiciled in New York and respondent disbursed trust assets to her in New York (see Hanson, 357 US at 252). Therefore, we reverse the order, grant the motion, and dismiss the petition (see Barone v Bausch & Lomb, Inc., 191 AD3d 1365, 1366 [4th Dept 2021]).

While New York was clearly the more convenient forum for the settlor and beneficiary of the Trust, the trustee (a Virginia resident) did not have enough minimum contacts with the New York forum.

The fact that the settlor of the trust moved to New York 20 years after the creation of the trust and received several distributions from the trust while domiciled there was not enough to subject the trustee to personal jurisdiction in the New York Surrogate’s Court.  Read about a New York Surrogate’s Court trust litigation case here.

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