Uniform Trust Code enacted in NJ
The governor signed the NJSBA-drafted Uniform Trust Code into law on Jan. 19, as part of bills approved on the final bill enactment day of the last session. The law becomes effective on July 17.
This bill, as amended, titled the “Uniform Trust Code,” would supplement and revise the State’s existing laws concerning trusts. The bill is largely based upon model legislation prepared by the Uniform Law Commission (formerly the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws), with some parts modified or altogether not included in order to better fit within New Jersey’s existing scheme on trust law. Most significantly, the model code contained two articles which have not been included in this bill: Article 2 concerning the jurisdiction of the court, as these matters are controlled by court rule and not statutory law; and Article 9 concerning prudent investor standards, as such standards are already part of the statutory law in this State, known as the “Prudent Investor Act,” P.L.1997, c.26 (C.3B:20-11.1 et seq.).
A-2915/S-2035 (Lagana, McKeon, Ciattarelli/Bateman, Barnes) - "Uniform Trust Code"
ARTICLE 1 (3B:31-1 THROUGH 3B:31-12): This article provides the definitions and general provisions to be used throughout the bill, which would largely comprise a new chapter in Title 3B of the New Jersey Statutes. Among the provisions of general applicability are those detailing mandatory requirements for the creation and operation of trusts that cannot be modified or eliminated by the agreed upon terms of a trust; these would include the duty of a trustee to act in good faith, the rights of certain creditors and assignees to reach a beneficiary’s trust interest, and the periods of limitation for commencing judicial proceedings. The article also covers the means for determining which jurisdiction’s law governs a trust, as well as determining the location of a trust’s principal place of administration. Additionally, the article would permit the nonjudicial settlement of a trustee’s accounts and other matters related to trust administration, so long as any such settlement does not produce a result contrary to what is allowed in trust law, including, but not limited to, the modification or termination of a trust in an impermissible manner.
ARTICLE 2 (3B:31-13 THROUGH 3B:31-17). Article 2 sets out guidelines with regard to the representation of a trust in a transaction or proceeding. Representation may be provided by the holder of general testamentary power of appointment, by a fiduciary or a parent, or by virtual representation. Virtual representation allows a minor, incapacitated person, unborn individual, or a person whose identity or location is unknown to be represented by another having a substantially identical interest concerning a particular question or dispute. If a court determines that an interest is not represented or that available representation might not be adequate, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem or other representative for a minor, incapacitated person, unborn individual, or person whose identity or location is unknown.
ARTICLE 3 (3B:31-18 THROUGH 3B:31-34). This article details the methods and requirements for the creation, modification, and termination of a trust.
The methods to create a trust would be: (1) the transfer of property to a trustee under a written instrument during the life of a settlor (a person who creates or contributes property to a trust), or by will or disposition upon the settlor’s death; (2) a written declaration by the owner of property that the owner holds identifiable property as trustee; or (3) a written power of appointment in favor of a trustee. A trust would only be created if there is a definite beneficiary for the trust, or the trust is a charitable trust, a trust for the care of an animal, or a trust for a noncharitable purpose. The written instrument creating a trust or transferring property to a trust would not be invalid or ineffective because the transferee is identified as the trust rather than the trustee thereof.
A trust may generally be enforced if its purposes are lawful, not contrary to public policy, and possible to achieve. Any trust, to the extent its creation was induced by fraud, duress, or undue influence, would be void to such extent.
As to the modification and termination of a trust, the article sets forth the means by which a trustee or beneficiary may commence proceedings to approve or disapprove a proposed trust modification or termination. Additionally, a trust is subject to termination to the extent it is revoked or expires pursuant to its own terms, no purpose of the trust remains to be achieved, or the purposes of the trust have become unlawful, contrary to public policy, or impossible to achieve.
A trustee for a trust consisting of property valued at less than $100,000 may, after notice to qualified beneficiaries, terminate the trust if that trustee concludes that the value of the trust property is insufficient to justify the costs of administration.
A court may modify the administrative or dispositive terms of a trust or terminate the trust if, because of circumstances not anticipated by the settlor, modification or termination would further the purposes of the trust. To the extent practicable, any such modification should be made in accordance with the settlor’s probable intent. The court may also reform a trust, even if unambiguous, to conform the terms to the settlor’s probable intent if it is proved by clear and convincing
evidence that there was a mistake of fact or law, whether in expression or inducement.
Provisions in the article further provide that the court may modify the terms of a trust to achieve a settlor’s tax objectives, so long as done in a manner that is not contrary to the settlor’s probable intent.
ARTICLE 4 (3B:31-35 THROUGH 3B:31-41). This article establishes guidelines concerning creditor’s claims, and spendthrift and discretionary trusts.
A spendthrift provision restricts a beneficiary’s creditor from attaching the beneficiary’s interest in the trust until there is a distribution to the beneficiary. A spendthrift provision is created by a reference to a “spendthrift trust,” or words of similar import, in the trust instrument, that would restrain both voluntary and involuntary transfer of the beneficiary’s trust interest.
If there is no spendthrift provision in a trust, a creditor may reach a beneficiary’s interest by attachment of future or present distributions before the trust is distributed, subject to New Jersey law concerning wage executions (N.J.S.2A:17-50 through N.J.S.2A:17-56, and sections 3 and 4 of P.L.1981, c. 203 (C.2A:17-56.1a and C.2A:17- 56.6)).
The article also addresses a type of trust for the young, the elderly, or the disabled, known as a “special needs trust,” or “OBRA ’93” trust. Such a trust would limit distributions during the term of the trust to benefit one or more “protected persons,” such as a person who is aged, blind, disabled, developmentally disabled, or a person under the age of 18, or over the age of 18 and a full-time student, with a serious disability that may prevent self-sufficiency.
A creditor could not reach or attach an interest in a special needs trust, nor require the trustee to distribute to satisfy a creditor’s claim. A special needs trust would not be required to repay government aid provided to the protected person unless the aid was provided on the basis that the trust would repay the aid when the person dies, the trust is terminated, and the special needs trust instrument expressly calls for such repayment. This provision would not apply to first-party, self- settled OBRA’93 trusts.
Also, a creditor may not compel a trustee to make a distribution to a beneficiary that is discretionary.
Regardless of any spendthrift provision in a trust, the property of a revocable trust is subject to claims by a settlor’s creditor during the settlor’s lifetime. With respect to an irrevocable trust, a creditor (or assignee of the settlor) may obtain the maximum amount available that can be distributed to or for the settlor’s benefit. After the settlor’s death, and subject to the settlor’s right to direct the source from which liabilities are paid, the property of a trust revocable at the settlor’s death is subject to creditor claims, cost of administration of the settlor’s estate, the expenses of the settlor’s funeral and disposal of remains, and to a surviving spouse or civil union partner and children
to the extent the settlor’s probate estate is inadequate to satisfy those claims, costs, and expenses.
ARTICLE 5 (3B:31-42 THROUGH 31-45). This article addresses the use of revocable trusts as alternatives to wills and seeks to clarify certain issues in connection with the use of revocable trusts. A revocable trust is one in which the settlor retains the power to control, amend, revoke, or add property to the trust similar to a will. The article sets forth the circumstances in which a settlor, a settlor’s attorney in fact, or guardian may revoke or amend a revocable trust. A trust is revocable unless the terms of a trust expressly provide that it is irrevocable, or unless there is clear and convincing evidence that it is irrevocable. The trustee of a revocable trust is responsible only to the settlor of the trust. The article establishes time limits on contesting the validity of a revocable trust after the death of the settlor, which generally conform to the time limits for contesting the probate of a will. The bill also protects a trustee who makes distributions from the trust after the settlor’s death, unless the trustee knows of a pending or possible contest concerning the validity of the trust.
ARTICLE 6 (3B:31-46 THROUGH 3B:31-53). This article provides a series of default rules concerning the office of trustee, many of which are already established in chapters 11, 14 and 18 of Title 3B of the New Jersey Statutes, New Jersey Rules of Court, and New Jersey case law. Except for the court’s authority to issue letters of testamentary trusteeship and to order bond, all of the provisions of Article 6 are subject to modification by the express terms of the governing trust instrument.
The article addresses the process of qualifying a trustee, including procedures for accepting or declining the office of trustee and bonding the trustee. It also establishes the duties and responsibilities between or among co-trustees, and provides standards for addressing various issues that may arise with co-trustees. For example, provisions would permit co-trustees to act by majority action and specify how and what happens when one of several trustees dissents from a course of action, as well as the extent to which the others must act when one is unable or has properly delegated performance of a function.
The article addresses changes in the office of trustee including: when and how a vacancy is filled, the procedure for resignation, grounds for removal, and the duties and obligations of a resigning or removed trustee. The settlor, a co-trustee, a beneficiary or the court on its own initiative may request that a trustee be removed on grounds as set forth in N.J.S.3B:14-21 (such as failing to file an inventory, render an account, refusal to abide by a court order, embezzlement, or neglect, refusal, or inability to perform trustee duties).
The article also prescribes standards for reimbursement for expenses advanced by the trustee. Since the matter of trustee compensation is addressed comprehensively in chapter 18 of Title 3B
of the New Jersey Statutes, the provision in the Uniform Trust Code concerning trustee compensation has not been included in the bill.
ARTICLE 7 (3B:31-54 THROUGH 3B:31-70). This article sets forth the basic duties and powers of trustees. The basic duty is the duty of loyalty which requires a trustee to manage the trust solely in the best interests of the beneficiaries and to avoid conflicts of interest between the interests of a trustee and that of a beneficiary. The other duties include the duty of impartiality, the obligation of prudent administration, the obligation to incur only reasonable costs, and the obligation to apply the trustee’s special skills when there is reliance on those skills in the naming of the trustee. A trustee may delegate certain duties and powers, but is held to a prudent standard of appointment in so doing. The agent of any such delegation is held to the fiduciary standard of the trustee in the exercise of the trustee’s delegated duties and powers.
With regard to the trustee’s duty to disclose and make reports, provisions require the trustee to keep qualified beneficiaries reasonably informed about the administration of the trust and of the material facts necessary for them to protect their interests.
The article also includes a section, not included in the model legislation, concerning the powers of fiduciaries to direct investment decisions for a trust. When a governing instrument gives authority to one or more persons to direct, consent to, or disapprove a fiduciary's actual or proposed investment decisions, such persons would be considered to be investment advisers and fiduciaries when exercising such authority unless the governing instrument otherwise provides.
The section provides that if a governing instrument states that the fiduciary is to follow the direction of an investment adviser, and the fiduciary acts in accordance with such a direction, then except in cases of willful misconduct or gross negligence, the fiduciary would not be liable for any loss resulting directly or indirectly from any such act. Except to the extent that the governing instrument provides otherwise, the fiduciary, acting under the instrument to follow the investment adviser’s direction, would have no duty to: (1) monitor the conduct of the investment adviser; (2) provide advice to the investment adviser or consult with the investment adviser; or (3) communicate with or warn or apprise any beneficiary or third party concerning instances in which the fiduciary would or might have exercised the fiduciary's own discretion in a manner different from the manner directed by the investment adviser.
If the governing instrument provides that a fiduciary is to make decisions with the consent of an investment adviser, then except in cases of willful misconduct or gross negligence on the part of the fiduciary, the fiduciary would not be liable for any loss resulting directly or indirectly from any act taken or omitted as a result of such investment adviser's failure to provide such consent after having been requested to do so by the fiduciary.
Absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, the actions of the fiduciary pertaining to matters within the scope of the investment adviser's authority, such as confirming that the investment adviser's directions have been carried out and recording and reporting actions taken at the investment adviser's direction, would be presumed to be administrative actions taken by the fiduciary solely to allow the fiduciary to perform those duties assigned to the fiduciary under the governing instrument. Such administrative actions would not be deemed to constitute an undertaking by the fiduciary to monitor the investment adviser or otherwise participate in actions within the scope of the investment adviser's authority.
ARTICLE 8 (3B:31-71 THROUGH 3B:31-81). This article addresses the liability of a trustee and the rights of persons dealing with the trustee. It provides for remedies when there is a breach of an obligation by the trustee and specifies how money damages are to be determined. It also specifies certain trustee defenses, including the addition of a statute of limitations for claims alleging breach of trust. Generally, a beneficiary could not commence a proceeding for breach of trust against a trustee more than six months after the date the beneficiary (or beneficiary’s representative) received a report disclosing the existence of a potential claim. If such a report was not applicable to a potential claim, the claim would have to be filed within five years of the following first-occurring event: (1) the removal, resignation, or death of the trustee; (2) the termination of the beneficiary’s interest in the trust; or (3) the termination of the trust. However, the foregoing would not bar any proceeding by a beneficiary until five years after such beneficiary has attained majority, has knowledge of the existence of the trust and has knowledge that such beneficiary is or was a beneficiary of the trust, if these factors were applicable to the beneficiary’s situation.
ARTICLE 9 (3B:31-82 THROUGH 3B:31-84). Miscellaneous administrative provisions are addressed in this final article, such as clarifying the status of the proposed code’s provisions under the federal statutory law regarding electronic records and signatures. The article also provides a severability clause so that if any provision of the code is held invalid, the invalidity does not affect other provisions of the code.
The provisions of the code, as stated in this article, would apply to trusts created before, on, or after the effective date of the bill.
In addition to the new supplemental chapter, described above, the bill amends existing law, at N.J.S.3B:14-37, clarifying that a person, other than a beneficiary, who in good faith assists a fiduciary or deals with the fiduciary for value is protected as if the fiduciary properly exercised his power. A similar provision would be added to the section concerning a person who in good faith assists a former trustee,
without knowledge that the trusteeship was terminated, to protect that person from liability as if the former trustee were still a trustee.
Lastly, the bill repeals four sections of existing law that are unnecessary or are inconsistent with the bill’s provisions: N.J.S.3B:11- 5 (trustee’s death or failure to act; appointment of new trustee by court; powers); N.J.S.3B:11-6 (vacancy in trusteeship upon discharge or removal); N.J.S.3B:11-7 (power of new, substituted or additional trustees); and section 1 of P.L.2001, c.144 (C.3B:11-38) (trust funds for pets).
The bill, as amended and reported by the committee, is identical to Assembly Bill No. 2915 (1R), also amended and reported today by the committee.
The committee amendments to the bill:
- add a definition for “beneficiary,” to specify that the term includes persons: who have any present or future trust interest, vested or contingent; who, in a capacity other than that of a trustee, hold appointment power over trust property; who are owners in a trust interest by assignment or other transfer; or who, relating to a charitable trust only, are entitled to enforce the trust;
- expand the definition of “trustee” set forth in existing law to include a corporate entity in its capacity as a trustee or co- trustee where two or more are appointed;
- provide that a nonjudicial settlement of a trust matter cannot be used to produce results contrary to the statutory trust law, including, but not limited to, attempts to terminate or modify a trust in an impermissible manner;
- indicate that a settlor may not represent and bind a beneficiary with respect to the termination or modification of a noncharitable irrevocable trust;
- clarify that a trustee’s power to select a beneficiary from an indefinite class is not void pursuant to section 14 of P.L.1999, c.159 (C.46:2F-10), which repealed the Uniform Statutory Rule Against Perpetuities, or any other applicable rule against perpetuities or restraint on alienation;
- eliminate a provision which would have allowed a settlor general authority to bring a proceeding to approve or disapprove a proposed modification or termination of a trust; instead, a settlor may only act to modify a charitable trust;
- provide that a noncharitable irrevocable trust may be modified or terminated upon consent of the trustee, not the settlor as originally provided in the underlying bill;
- add, regarding a trust spendthrift provision, that such a provision does not prevent the appointment of interests through the exercise of a power of appointment;
- grant, to a trustee of a special needs trust, broad discretion to make trust distributions, and require that such a trust have at least one protected person as a beneficiary;
- remove language concerning creditor claims on an irrevocable trust, so that assets of such a trust may still be subject to a creditor’s claim even when a trustee’s authority to pay taxing authorities directly, or reimburse the settlor for trust income tax payable by the settlor, is solely discretionary;
- add a new section, to be allocated within the proposed new chapter on trusts in Title 3B, concerning the investment functions of fiduciaries, as described in the statement above;
- require that a trustee keep qualified beneficiaries reasonably informed about the administration of a trust and of the material facts necessary for them to protect their interests;
- provide that the provisions establishing a general five-year statute of limitations on actions against a trustee would not bar a proceeding by a beneficiary until five years after such beneficiary has attained majority, has knowledge of the existence of the trust and has knowledge that such beneficiary is or was a beneficiary of the trust, if these factors were applicable to the beneficiary’s situation;
- include references throughout the bill to “partner in a civil union” whenever only the term “spouse” appears, to reflect the equal status between marriages and civil unions per the provisions of P.L.2006, c.103 (C.37:1-28 et al.), which established civil unions in this State; and
- correct references to the term “co-trustee,” as well as correct and update internal cross-references and external references to existing trust law and other relevant applicable law.