Law School Case Brief
Timmons v. Ingrahm - 36 So. 3d 861 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2010)
In determining the intent of a settlor, a technical term used in a trust instrument should be accorded its legal definition, unless obviously used by the settlor in a different sense. "Lineal descendant" or "descendant" is defined to mean a person in any generational level down the applicable individual's descending line. It includes children, grandchildren, or more remote descendants but excludes collateral heirs. Fla. Stat. § 731.201(9) (2007). Adopted children come within the definition of lineal descendants.
At the time of his death in 1999, Frank Sr. was married to Myrtle Timmons, n/k/a, Myrtle Timmons Ingrahm ("Myrtle"). He had two adopted children, the Timmons, from a previous marriage. Myrtle had four children -- none of which was ever adopted by Frank Sr. In his will, Frank Sr. created two trusts: the Timmons Family Trust (“Family Trust”) and the Timmons Marital Trust (“Marital Trust”). The Family Trust provided that upon Myrtle's death, the trust assets were to be divided equally amongst Frank Sr.’s “children.” Frank Sr.’s will expressly defined “children” to include both his adopted children and Myrtle’s children. The trust also granted Myrtle the power to appoint “all or any part of the principal of the trust to and among Frank Sr.’s then-living lineal descendants.” Pursuant to the purported power granted to her in the trust, Myrtle executed a document entitled “Exercise of Limited Power of Appointment” that attempted to grant the entire principal and income of the family trust to her four natural children. The Timmons brought an action against the co-trustees (Myrtle and another person) for breach of fiduciary duty and for an accounting, alleging that Myrtle’s attempt to disinherit them was ineffective because the limited power of appointment could only be executed in in favor of Frank Sr.'s "lineal descendants" and Myrtle's natural children did not fall within this definition. In response, the co-trustees contended that Myrtle's exercise of the limited power of appointment was lawful and had the intended effect of disinheriting the Timmons -- thereby leaving them without standing to maintain their action. The parties subsequently filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court denied the Timmons’ motion, granted the co-trustees’ motion, and entered final summary judgment in favor of the co-trustees. The Timmons appealed.
Did co-trustee wife Myrtle have the power to grant the entire principal and income of the family trust to her four natural children, and in effect, disinherit settlor husband Frank Sr.’s adopted children from a previous marriage?
On appeal, the Court held that co-trustee Myrtle’s attempt to disinherit the Timmons was ineffective because the limited power of appointment could only be executed in favor of the Frank Sr.’s lineal descendants, which did not include Myrtle’s natural children. While Frank Sr.'s will expressly provided for a different definition of the term children, it did not attempt to change the legal definition of lineal descendants. The trial court erred in failing to accord the term "lineal descendants" its legal definition in determining the intent of the testator/settlor, Frank Sr. Under Fla. Stat. § 731.201(9) (2007), the legal definition of lineal descendants did not include stepchildren, and thus, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the co-trustees.
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