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MA Appeals Court rules in favor of client in trust dispute

Tyler E. Chapman and Richard M. Novitch persuaded the Massachusetts Appeals Court to reverse a lower court order dismissing their client’s petition for removal of a trustee.

The court found that the trust instrument was ambiguous as to whether a Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code provision is a viable basis for removing the trustee. Accordingly, it was premature to dismiss the client’s petition for removal, the court ruled.

At issue in the case is whether the Trust Code provision permitting removal is a “for cause” or a “without cause” reason for removal. The trust instrument only permits removal of the trustee “for cause.”

The Trust Code provision – which is the basis for the client’s removal petition – allows a court to remove a trustee if all qualified beneficiaries request it and removal is not inconsistent with a material purpose of the trust.

“We vacate the dismissal because we do not agree,” the court wrote, “at the motion to dismiss stage, that the trust instrument unambiguously prohibits use of [the Trust Code provision] as a viable basis of removal.”

The court observed that the trust instrument does not unequivocally establish that the grounds enumerated in the Trust Code provision relied on by the firm’s client are “without cause” reasons for dismissal.

In fact, the trust document alone, the court found, does not “exclude the notion that [the Trust Code provision] qualifies as a ‘for cause’ reason under the trust.”

The court remanded the case to the Probate and Family Court for further proceedings.