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In re Estate

Decided: May 1, 1981.

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE AND THE TESTAMENTARY TRUST CREATED UNDER ARTICLE FOURTH OF THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF JAMES ORVILLE RANSOM, DECEASED


Steedle, J.s.c.

Steedle

The present action is in the nature of a will contest.

Plaintiffs in this action are Karen Caruso, Wayne Ransom and James O. Ransom, III; they are the grandchildren of James Orville Ransom, deceased (hereinafter "testator"), and the children of James Orville Ransom, Jr., testator's son.

Based upon those allegations in the pleadings which were admitted, certain stipulations between and among the parties and certain testimony which was largely uncontroverted, the court has made certain findings which establish the basic factual context of the present litigation. James Orville Ransom, Sr. died testate on December 18, 1970, leaving a will dated June 21,

1966. On January 12, 1971 the Atlantic County Surrogate admitted the will to probate and issued letters testamentary to Frank Ransom, the executor name therein (hereinafter "executor"). Testator was survived by his wife Josephine Ransom*fn1 and three natural children, Frank Ransom, the executor; James Orville Ransom, Jr., and Marion (Ransom) Gandolfi.

Frank Ransom, the executor of the subject will, died testate on April 27, 1978; Rita F. Ransom, his widow and the executrix of his estate, has been named a defendant in the present action. James Orville Ransom, Jr. died testate on November 27, 1974, survived by Rita L. Ransom, his widow and executrix of his estate, and three children, plaintiffs herein. Defendant Marion Gandolfi is the sole surviving issue of the testator herein.

Under the terms of the subject will there are three significant elements to testator's scheme of disposition. First, in the second paragraph of the will he bequeathed outright certain personal property to his widow Josephine Ransom. Second, in the third paragraph of the will he bequeathed 51% of the issued and outstanding shares of Ransom Raised, Inc., a closely held corporation, to his widow Rita Ransom outright. That paragraph further provides that any additional shares of Ransom Raised, Inc. shall pass to Frank Ransom. Third, he provided in paragraphs Fourth through Ninth, inclusive, for the creation of a testamentary trust. Upon payment of testator's debts and expenses, and satisfaction of the bequests specified in paragraphs Second and Third as noted above, the residue and remainder of testator's estate was to pass to the testamentary trust. Further, the Tenth and final provision of testator's will specifically appointed Frank Ransom as the executor of the estate, as noted above, and as the trustee of the testamentary trust created under the will.

Plaintiffs' complaint is essentially founded in an alleged two-fold breach of duty by the trustee. First, plaintiffs aver that the executor breached the provisions of Article Sixth of the testator's will, which provided: "The interests of the beneficiaries hereunder shall not be subject to anticipation or to voluntary or involuntary alienation." Second, plaintiffs aver that the executor/trustee acted in derogation of the provisions of R. 4:26-3 and the provisions of N.J.S.A. 3A:19-4. In substance, plaintiffs seek a determination by this court that a 1973 agreement between the executor/trustee and the primary beneficiaries under the testamentary trust was "void and without efficacy as to the testator's will," thereby arguably entitling plaintiffs to a one-third share in the testamentary trust created pursuant to the will of James Orville Ransom, Sr. Substantively, plaintiffs also seek to compel an accounting by the estate of Frank Ransom, deceased, executor and trustee under the will herein. Derivatively, plaintiffs sought a substitution of the executor and trustee under the will of James Orville Ransom and a revocation of the general letters testamentary issued to Rita Ransom as executrix of the will of Frank Ransom, the executor of the subject estate.

Upon the conclusion of the trial this court directed the Surrogate of Atlantic County to issue letters of substituted testamentary trusteeship to Theodore S. Ridgway, Esq. Said letters have been issued.

Defendant Marion Gandolfi has cross-claimed against defendant estate of Frank Ransom and the executrix thereof, alleging substantially the same cause of action as contained in plaintiffs' complaint. In addition to those allegations, defendant Gandolfi cross-claims that defendant Frank Ransom failed to give the required notice of intent to purchase trust asserts, as required by Article Fourth B of the will herein. Gandolfi also seeks a determination of this court that she is entitled to a one-third share of the corpus of the testamentary trust.

It is necessary at this point to detail more fully those provisions of testator's will which created and control the subject testamentary trust. The assets which passed to the testamentary trust pursuant to Article Fourth of the will included both personal property and certain real property situate in Hammonton, Atlantic County, New Jersey. Those assets are more particularly described in the estate's New Jersey Transfer Inheritance Tax Return ...


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