On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Probate Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. P-83-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 3, 2011
Before Judges C.L. Miniman and LeWinn.
This matter concerns a dispute over the interpretation of provisions in the will of decedent, Eleanor Irene Higgins Link, regarding the appointment of successor trustees of the George Link, Jr. Charitable Trust, created under that will in the name of her deceased husband. Decedent's will named her husband's nephew, Robert E. Link, Jr. (hereinafter Robert), Michael J. Catanzaro*fn1 and Bernard F. Joyce as trustees. Catanzaro and Joyce (hereinafter collectively "appellants") appeal from the June 2, 2010 order of the Chancery Division (1) declaring null and void appellants' designation of John T. Catanzaro as Robert's successor trustee; (2) declaring valid and in full force and effect Robert's designation of his daughter, Nora Link (or if she cannot serve, his daughter Alannah Link), as his successor; and (3) denying appellants' motion to remove Robert as a trustee. We affirm.
The following two provisions of the will are pertinent to this appeal:
(c) I appoint [appellants] and [Robert] . . . to be the trustees of the charitable trust created [herein] and I direct that all decisions of my trustees shall be made by a majority of my trustees then acting; provided, however, that at any time that Michael is acting as a trustee hereunder, my trustees shall take no action in which Michael does not concur, and I direct that Michael shall be the controlling trustee of the charitable trust when he is acting as a trustee.
(d) At any time and from time to time, the then acting trustee or trustees of the charitable trust shall have the right to designate successor trustees to act upon the happening of some future event and at any time to revoke any designation of a successor trustee heretofore made, each by instrument in writing, signed and acknowledged.
Shortly after decedent's death in January 1999, the trustees held their initial meeting. The April 26, 1999 minutes of that meeting state that "[i]n accordance with the terms of the will . . . namely, Article Seventh (d) thereof, each of the [t]rustees designated their respective successors, in writing, with the approval of all [t]rustees. Said designations were delivered to . . . Catanzaro to be retained as part of the official records of the [t]rust." The minutes do not reflect the identities of the successors designated at that time.
The minutes of the trustees' meeting of July 14, 2008, however, reflect that "Nora M. Link, the designated successor
[t]rustee for Robert . . . [was] . . . present." Robert announced his intention to resign as trustee at that meeting and "Catanzaro mentioned that he would contact the [t]rust's attorney to prepare the necessary court documents, relative to his resignation."
On July 30, 2008, Catanzaro executed a designation of successor trustee, "revok[ing] any prior designations of a successor trustee[,]" and naming his daughter, Debra Ann Wayne, as his successor. On August 5, 2008, Joyce executed a similar form, designating his daughter, Colleen Hanczor, as his successor. Catanzaro and Joyce witnessed each other's form; the line for Robert's signature is blank on both forms. On those two dates, Catanzaro and Joyce also executed a designation of successor trustee for Robert, naming Catanzaro's son, John T. Catanzaro, as Robert's successor.
On August 7, 2008, Catanzaro forwarded the three successor designation forms to Robert for his "endorse[ment]." In his cover letter, Catanzaro stated that he and Joyce had "some experience" with Robert and his family which made them "feel uncomfortable and not confident" to accept Nora as Robert's designated successor; they concluded that "it is not in the ...