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Trust Under Jurisdiction Of One State Despite Ties To Another

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With the growing popularity of living trusts and the mobility of the American public, the question often arises: which state court has jurisdiction over a trust dispute? Before trusts were common, disputes after the death of a property owner were handled in the courts of the state where the decedent had lived and died—and, usually, where the property was located. That is not always the case today.

Alexander L. Levine lived in New Jersey, and owned several shopping centers there. By the time he retired, in fact, he owned shopping centers in New York, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Mr. Levine retired to Florida, and in 1980 he signed a revocable living trust so that his estate could avoid the probate process. All his shopping centers in four states (but not including Florida, where he owned no property) were transferred to the trust.

In 1994 Mr. Levine died in Florida. His successor trustees, Carole Ann Steiger and Anthony R. Ullmann, continued to operate Mr. Levine’s shopping centers from the trust’s offices in New Jersey, and one of the trustees even lived in that state.

Three years later two of the trust beneficiaries became unhappy with its administration, and brought a lawsuit in New Jersey seeking to force an accounting. The New Jersey court decided that the trust was created under (and would be controlled by) Florida law, and that Mr. Levine had intended that it be run as a Florida trust. Consequently, the New Jersey action was dismissed, with the unusual additional ruling that the court would reconsider if Florida courts declined to take any action.

The trustees then filed an accounting in the Florida courts, and asked for approval of their administration of the trust. The beneficiaries objected, arguing that New Jersey really had control over the trust’s administration and interpretation. The Florida court disagreed, and the beneficiaries appealed.

The Florida Court of Appeals upheld the decision to manage the trust in Florida courts. According to the Court of Appeals, either Florida or New Jersey could have jurisdiction over the trust, and the Florida trial court’s decision to exercise that jurisdiction was not wrong—particularly in light of the New Jersey court’s refusal to act. Levine v. Steiger, August 7, 2000.

Florida may have sufficient connections to the Levine trust to direct its administration, but usually trusts are held to be under the jurisdiction of the state where trustees live and the trust is administered. That is also where the trust usually will file state income taxes, and state law may even require that the trust register in that state. Simply by choosing an out-of-state trustee, the person establishing a trust can accidentally or intentionally cause it to be subjected to another state’s laws and taxes.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.