Wednesday, June 13, 2007

McKenzie v. Vanderpoel (Cal. Ct. App. - June 13, 2007)

This case is wonderful. For three reasons.

First, what a trust! Maud Bull created an inter vivos trust in 1959 with 2000 shares of IBM stock. Guess how much that trust's worth today, even after throwing off some income to various beneficiaries? Wait for it: well in excess of $33 million. Sweet!

Second, what a mistake! Obviously Maud Bull didn't know the stock would do so well, since when she created the trust, she declared that each of the beneficiaries would get a set amount -- $200 to $500 a month -- of the income from the trust for life. The rest of the income goes back to principal. Well, that may be a lot of income in 1959, but as of 1992, the stock was throwing off income of over $1.2 million a year. And the beneficiaries were still just getting their piddly fixed $200 to $500 a month. D'oh!

Third, what subtlety! Justice Epstein writes the entire opinion straight up. And, from the name of the trustor -- Maud L. Bull -- you'd probably have no reason to suspect that we're talking about anyone famous here. But we are. The present beneficiaries of this trust are the children (and grandchildren) of Bull's niece, who's name was Phyllis Potter. Who, as old-time Hollywood aficionados may recall, was the first wife of . . . Fred Astaire. So we're talking about Fred Astaire's kids and grandkids here. Who are all trying to get (and fighting a tiny bit about how to obtain) more money from the trust. And Justice Epstein doesn't even mention the identity of the famous father/grandfather of the beneficiaries.