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In re Eder

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

October 10, 2017

DAVID ERIC EDER'S APPEAL FROM PROBATE[*]

          Argued May 30, 2017

          David R. Schaefer, with whom, was Michael T. Cretella, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Glenn W. Dowd, with whom, were Seth Morgan Kaplowitz and Casey R. Healey, and, on the brief, Howard Fetner, for the appellees (defendants).

          Lavine, Alvord and Beach, Js.

         Syllabus

         D, the biological son of the settlor, J, appealed to the trial court from the order and decree of the Probate Court concluding that the remainder beneficiaries of J's irrevocable trust included not only D, but also J's adopted adult children, S and M. J had created the trust in 1991, and it terminated in 2011. The trust provided for distribution of the trust property upon its termination ‘‘to each child of the settlor then living.'' J had one biological child, D, born in 1963, and adopted S and M in 2010. J had established a relationship with S and M as early as 1972 when he first met their mother, R, and began to live with R, S, and M in 1975, when S was six years old and M was four years old. Following J's separation from R in 1985, J continued his relationship with S and M, and provided them with financial and emotional support. J and D had a falling-out in 2009. In 2011, the trustees of the trust filed an application in the Probate Court seeking a determination of the trust's beneficiaries. The Probate Court decreed that D, S, and M were all remainder beneficiaries of the trust. Thereafter, D appealed to the trial court, claiming that by adopting S and M, J improperly added two remainder beneficiaries to the trust to reduce the size of his share of the trust's corpus. Following a hearing, the trial court concluded that the Probate Court had properly construed the trust and it rendered judgment dismissing the appeal, from which D appealed to this court.

         Held:

2. The trial court properly concluded that because S and M were the natural objects of J's bounty, their adoptions by J did not contravene the purpose or intent of the trust, which had to be determined from the language of the trust, not external factors; the trust provided that a remainder beneficiary was, at the time the trust terminated, a child of the settlor then living, biological or adopted, our statutes permit adult adoptions and adoptees to take under a testamentary instrument, unless they are expressly excluded, which did not occur here, and the trust contemplated that J could have more children after its creation.

         Procedural History

         Appeal from the decision of the Probate Court for the district of New Haven determining the beneficiaries of a certain trust, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven and tried to the court, Hon. Thomas J. Corradino, judge trial referee; judgment dismissing the appeal, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          OPINION

          LAVINE, J.

         David Eric Eder (David Eder), the biological son of the settlor, John Dennis Eder (settlor), appealed to the Superior Court from a decree of the Probate Court concluding that the remainder beneficiaries of the John Dennis Eder Annuity Trust (trust) include not only the settlor's biological child, but also his adult adopted children.[1] Following a hearing, the Superior Court concluded that the Probate Court properly had construed the trust and dismissed the appeal. David Eder appealed to this court, claiming that, as a matter of law, the Superior Court erred by holding (1) that the settlor's intent in establishing the trust was not relevant to determining whether the subject adoptions were a sham and (2) that the adoptions did not contravene the purpose and intent of the trust because the adoptees were the natural objects of the settlor's bounty. We affirm the judgment of the court.

         The root cause of the present appeal appears to be a falling-out between a father and his biological son. The Court of Probate for the district of New Haven succinctly set forth the crux of the appeal in its decree issued on February 12, 2014. ‘‘[The settlor created the trust] on October 21, 1991. The trust has terminated as of October 21, 2011. An irrevocable trust, the trust provides for distribution of trust property upon termination to ‘each child of the [settlor] then living.' Though the settlor has only one biological child, [David Eder], the settlor recently adopted, on June 30, 2010, in the [commonwealth] of Massachusetts, two adults, Sacha [Richter] and Mischa Richter [Richter brothers]. On November 3, 2011, the trustees brought an application for the determination of the trust's beneficiaries. At issue is whether the settlor's adopted children fall within the trust's class of beneficiaries and may thus benefit from the distribution of trust assets as remainder beneficiaries, or are disqualified outside of such trust by fraud or other cause.'' (Emphasis added.) The Probate Court determined that the remainder beneficiaries of the trust include both the settlor's biological son and his adopted children. The Probate Court ordered the trustees to distribute the trust in equal shares to David Eder, Sacha Richter, and Mischa Richter.[2]

         After the Probate Court issued its decree, on March 11, 2014, David Eder appealed to the Superior Court. As reasons for the appeal, he alleged that he was aggrieved by the Probate Court's decree because ‘‘neither adoptee is a ‘Child' of John Eder within the meaning of that term contained in the [trust]; and even if the term ‘Child' in the [trust] could be interpreted to include adopted children, the adoption of the Richter brothers was a fraud/sham entered into for the sole purpose of changing the beneficiaries of an irrevocable trust.''

         The court found the following facts, which are not challenged by David Eder. David Eder was born to the settlor and Pearl-Ellen Bench (mother) in 1963, when the settlor was eighteen years old. The settlor and mother divorced soon thereafter. Throughout his childhood, David Eder lived in Connecticut with his mother and her second husband, H. William Shure. Shure had a parent-like relationship with David Eder, and they remain close today. The settlor had little involvement with David Eder and moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 1970.

         The settlor met Jill Richter in 1972 and began to live with her and her sons, the Richter brothers, in 1975. At the time, Sacha Richter was six years old and Mischa Richter was four years old. For the next ten years, the settlor, Jill Richter, and the Richter brothers lived together in Provincetown. The settlor and Jill Richter separated in approximately 1985, but the settlor has continued his relationship, including financial and emotional support, with the Richter brothers to the present day.

         In 1991, for tax planning purposes, Arthur Eder, the settlor's father, directed his attorney to draft a trust instrument for the settlor.[3] Pursuant to the settlor's trust, the settlor was to receive $114, 000 per year for twenty years at which time the trust ended; the corpus of the trust was to be distributed in equal shares to ‘‘each child of the [settlor] then living.'' The settlor executed the trust on October 21, 1991.

         David Eder and the settlor had an amicable relationship until approximately 2009. For reasons that are not directly relevant to this appeal, the settlor had a falling-out with David Eder and sought to disinherit him. He consulted Michael D'Addio, an attorney trustee, to undo the monetary gifts that he had made to David Eder. Michael D'Addio informed the settlor that, for tax purposes, the trust was irrevocable and that the settlor did not have the authority to revoke the trust or change the beneficiary.

         The court found that, in 2010, the settlor wished to legalize his parental relationships with the Richter brothers and talked to them individually about his plan. The Richter brothers, who were adults, agreed to be adopted by the settlor, and the Probate and Family Court for the County of Barnstable, Massachusetts, approved the adoptions on June 30, 2010. The settlor admitted that the reason he adopted the Richter brothers at the time was ‘‘to include them in the [trust] before the date expired.'' The trust terminated on October 21, 2011.

         David Eder claims that by adopting the Richter brothers, the settlor improperly added two remainder beneficiaries to the trust to reduce the size of his share of the trust's corpus. On November 3, 2011, the trustees, Michael D'Addio and Gail D'Addio, filed an application in the Probate Court seeking a determination of the trust's beneficiaries. After the Probate Court decreed that David Eder as well as the Richter brothers were the remainder beneficiaries of the trust, David Eder appealed to the Superior Court.

         The standard of review applicable to probate appeals is well known. ‘‘In a probate appeal . . . the Superior Court's jurisdiction is statutory and limited to the order appealed from. The issues presented for review are those defined in the reasons of appeal. The Superior Court cannot consider or adjudicate issues beyond the scope of those proper for determination by the order or decree attacked. This is so even with the consent of the parties to the appeal because the court has subject matter jurisdiction limited only to the order or decree appealed from.'' Silverstein's Appeal from Probate, 13 Conn.App. 45, 58, 534 A.2d 1223 (1987). ‘‘[The Superior Court] tries the questions presented to it de novo, but in so doing it is . . . exercising a special and limited jurisdiction conferred on it by the statute authorizing appeals from probate.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 53-54.

         The probate appeal was tried on July 27 and 28, 2015. On March 2, 2016, the court issued a lengthy and comprehensive memorandum of decision dismissing the appeal, holding that the Richter brothers, as adoptees, are children of the settlor within the meaning of the trust and that the adoptions were not a sham ...


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