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In re Trust Under Agreement of Billings

October 17, 2007

IN THE MATTER OF THE TRUST UNDER AGREEMENT OF BLANCHE P. BILLINGS VANDER POEL


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Somerset County, Docket No. 04-00153.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Collester, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued January 18, 2007

Before Judges Stern, Collester and Lyons.

As the daughter of business entrepreneur and real estate tycoon C.K.G. Billings, Blanche Pauline Billings was a very wealthy woman. She married William Halsted Vander Poel and gave birth to three children: Benjamin Farnsworth Vander Poel, Mary Wendell Vander Poel, and Halsted Billings Vander Poel. Blanche and her family lived on 5th Avenue in New York City and owned a vacation home in Oyster Bay, Long Island.

Although she never lived in this state, Blanche created and executed three identical, irrevocable, and non-amendable trusts in New Jersey on November 2, 1950, one for each of her three children. The principal of each trust was 10,000 shares of Union Carbide & Carbon Corporation, one of the companies founded by Blanche's father. The trust for Halsted provided that he was to receive the trust income until his death. Thereafter the income was to be distributed among his living issue per stirpes until termination of the trust, when the corpus was to be equally divided among Blanche's living issue. The trust indenture defined "issue" only as "lawful issue," and specifically provided that all questions pertaining to the construction, validity, and execution of the trust were to be determined in accordance with the laws of the State of New Jersey.

When the 1950 trust was created, both Blanche's son Benjamin and her daughter Mary were married, and had six children between them. Halsted had no children and remained single until May 31, 1952, when he married Dorothy Marlatt. Dorothy had a young daughter, Jane Reid, from a prior marriage to James Edward Reid, who died in 1972. Dorothy and James divorced when Jane was four. According to Jane, Reid never visited her after the divorce. Halsted, Dorothy, and Jane settled in the Washington, D.C. area, and Jane attended a private school using the name Jane Vander Poel. Dorothy gave birth to three other children: Virginia in February 1953, Deborah in October 1954, and Halsted, II in November 1955. After the birth of each grandchild Blanche established and funded a trust for their individual benefit, but she never did so for Jane.

In 1956 Halsted and his family emigrated to Rome, where Dorothy and Halsted lived for the next forty years. The children were sent to boarding schools in the United States and Europe. Jane attended the Dobbs School in New York and later studied at an art school in Florence. She spent family holidays in Rome, traveling with the family to vacation destinations, or visiting Blanche and William at their home in Oyster Bay. Throughout this time Jane used the last name Vander Poel, and a family passport listed her under that name. Blanche was very aware that Jane was known as a Vander Poel. Jane certified that she visited Blanche during the time she lived in New York and that Blanche treated her no differently than the other Vander Poel grandchildren.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, while Halsted and Dorothy lived in Rome, they discussed Halsted adopting Jane. Dorothy wrote to their family lawyer in Washington inquiring about a formal adoption. The letter read:

Janie is now eighteen as of 9 January, and we want to check again, both in New York and in Washington, as to which place would be the most favorable for you to make arrangements for her legal adoption and change of name to Vander Poel.

She's most anxious to have this done, and we have written to our lawyers in New York, but it also occurred to us that with my mother living in Washington it might possibly be easier to have the arrangements made there. I'm not exactly sure which place we are residents of at the present time, but the main thing is that there should be as little publicity as possible in regard to this change.

As you well understand, Janie is [illegible] very worried about the possibility that she might have to stand up in a huge court of law and be confronted by Mr. Reid. I am quite sure you have already told us that this would not be necessary, but if you could write in detail as to what are the exact formalities involved, so that I in turn could write her, everything would be made easier, as she would be facing a known fact [illegible].

On January 27, 1960, the attorney responded:

I have given considerable thought to your letter of January 11, 1960 with respect to the possibility of having Jane adopted by Hawley. You will recall that this subject came up in 1958. We explored the possibilities at that time and came to the conclusion that it would difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish it either in the District of Columbia or New York. While I am not an authority on the latter, I believe [New York counsel] was rather pessimistic about the question of jurisdiction and I suspect the same is probably true today. With respect to the District of Columbia, adoption is only possible where the petitioner (Hawley) is a legal resident ...


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