ROY L. RICHTER, Judge.
U.S. Bank, National Association ("U.S. Bank") filed a Petition for Instructions regarding whether, upon termination of the testamentary trust created by Edwin B. Meissner ("Testator"), the remaining assets of the trust should be divided into two equal shares between Testator's children, Edwin Meissner, Jr., and Dorothy
The Edwin B. Meissner Testamentary Trust (the "Trust") was created under Clause Three of the Last Will and Testament of Edwin B. Meissner (the "Will"). Originally drafted on December 1, 1947, and modified by codicil in November 1952, the Will named Testator's wife, Edna Meissner ("Edna"); his daughter, Dorothy Meissner Freeman ("Dorothy"); and his son, Edwin Meissner, Jr. ("Bud") as co-trustees of the Trust.
Testator died on September 10, 1956, and was survived by Edna, Dorothy, and Bud. Clause Three of the Will provided that one-half of the residue of Testator's estate was to be distributed to Edna, free from trust, and the remaining half of the estate was to be held in the Trust. The net income of the Trust was distributed equally between Bud and Dorothy as provided by Clause Three of the Will:
Dorothy died in 1975 and was survived by two children, Elizabeth and William Freeman ("William"). Since Dorothy's death, Elizabeth and William have each received half of Dorothy's one-half share pursuant to Clause Three's express direction. Following the death of Dorothy and Edna, Bud became the sole trustee of the Trust in 1978. In August 2010, U.S. Bank replaced Bud as successor trustee, and U.S. Bank has remained as the Trust's sole trustee.
The Will stated that the Trust was to continue during the lifetime of Edna, Bud, and Dorothy, and would terminate upon the death of the last surviving of the three beneficiaries. Clause Five directed distribution after termination of the Trust:
Bud is currently 97 years old and has four children, Wallace Meissner ("Wallace"), Donald Meissner, Edwin B. Meissner, III, and Robert Meissner. Upon Bud's death, the Trust will terminate and the remaining corpus of the Trust is to be distributed in accordance with Clause Five of the Will.
On December 17, 2014, U.S. Bank filed a petition for instructions regarding the proper distribution of the corpus and undistributed income upon termination of the Trust. The petition questioned whether the Trust's corpus was to be divided into two
Wallace raises two points on appeal. In his first point, Wallace alleges the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Elizabeth because the judgment is contrary to the intention of Testator in that the plain language of the residuary provision requires an interpretation that the remaining principal be divided equally among the six grandchildren of Testator rather than equally between the two children's lineal roots.
Second, Wallace argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because the trial court's distribution per stirpes is contrary to Missouri law in that it does not presume that each member of the class takes an equal share of the legacy per capita. Specifically, Wallace contends that absent a clear provision in the Will, the specified class of grandchildren are entitled to an equal distribution of the corpus and undistributed income.
A. Standard of Review
Appellate review of a trial court's grant of a motion for summary judgment need not defer to the trial court's order, making the review essentially de novo.
B. Testator's Intent
When determining the meaning of a will's provision, "the paramount rule of construction is that the settlor's intent is controlling and such intention must be ascertained primarily from the trust instrument as a whole."
Specifically, per stirpes distribution is defined as "through or by roots or stocks, by representation."
Here, Clause Five of the Will expressly directed the Trust's principal be distributed per stirpes upon termination of the Trust:
Testator's use of "equally among" merely establishes the lines of descent as his two children, Dorothy and Bud, while the subsequent direction stating "each said child to take per stirpes" further defines the distribution among the children's descendants as per stipes.
In Clause Three, income of the Trust is to be "equally divided among said children... provided they shall be living, but if either or both of them be deceased, then the share of any such decedent shall go instead to his or her descendants, per stirpes." Since Dorothy's death, her two children have each received half of Dorothy's one-half share in income pursuant to Clause Three. However, upon termination of the Trust, her children would not receive the undistributed income earned before Bud's death, if distributed per capita. Thus, a per capita interpretation creates a conflict among clauses because Dorothy's children could receive less than their half share provided by Clause Three depending on the procedural timing of distributions at termination of the Trust.
Interpreting Clause Five as a per capita distribution would also contradict Testator's expressed intentions within another portion of Clause Five. Clause Five further provides that if a descendant of either of Testator's children is under the age of 21 at termination of the Will and dies prior to reaching the age of 21, his or her share is to be "in equal shares to the brothers and sisters of said minor." Rather than be distributed equally between all remaining grandchildren per capita, the share remains within the lineal root of the child. Further, this clause reiterates the intent to benefit the children's roots instead of the grandchildren's class as it expressly distributes the income of non-surviving grandchildren per stirpes. Though these clauses distribute different funds from the Trust, a substantially inconsistent interpretation of the distribution completely disregards the general scheme and intention of the entire document because it fails to consider the collateral consequences of inconsistent clauses and disregards the ultimate intent of the Will.
C. Presumption of Per Capita Distribution
Under Section 474.020 (RSMo. 2000), relatives of equal consanguinity to the testator who are distributees of the estate take equal shares. Therefore, when an instrument grants a legacy to members of a specified class, it is presumed that each member of the class takes an equal
Though the statutory presumption requires equal distribution of shares between relatives of equal consanguinity, Testator's provision in Clause Five expressly directs his children's descendants take their shares per stirpes. The intestate statute at the time of the Will and codicil's construction also required that the distribution of an estate be equal among relatives of equal consanguinity absent a contrary provision. A directive that uses terms contrary to this intestate distribution eliminates the presumption of per capita distribution because it offers clear intent to distribute differently than the intestate statute. Further, Clause Five also provides distribution identical to the intestate statute as a fall back to the express provision. In the event no descendants survived Testator, the clause provides that "the remainder of said corpus and income shall be distributed directly to those persons who, under the laws of the State of Missouri then in force, would be entitled to receive in distribution my personal property had I died intestate at that time." Interpreting that Testator did not intend per stirpes distribution would be counter to the express terms of the Will and incorrectly imply Testator was unaware of the legal effect of the language employed in the Will because it would create inconsistencies within the Will.
The trial court correctly entered summary judgment in favor of Elizabeth because the express terms, general scheme, and intent of the Will all support an interpretation of per stirpes distribution. Upon termination of the Trust, the corpus and undistributed income should be divided into two equal shares between Dorothy's children and Bud's children. Additionally, Elizabeth's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs on Appeal requests the attorneys' fees and costs associated with this appeal be paid by Wallace pursuant to Section 456.10-1004 (RSMo. Cum. Supp. 2009). Section 456.10-1000 states that "in a judicial proceeding involving the administration of a trust, the court, as justice and equity may require, may award costs and expenses, including reasonable attorney's fees, to any party, to be paid by another party or from the trust that is the subject of the controversy." Because Wallace's position was directly refuted by the express language of the Will and Missouri law, we agree that justice and equity require Elizabeth be awarded her attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $26,656 to be paid by Appellants.
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
Sherri B. Sullivan, P.J., concurs
Colleen Dolan, J., concurs.