Trustee Has Authority to Sell Property in Trust to Pay for Settlor’s Long-Term Care Costs

Reversing a lower court, Wyoming’s highest court rules that a trustee has authority to sell property in the trust to pay for the settlor’s long-term care even though the trust provides that the property was to be placed in trust for the settlor’s daughter when the settlor died. Jackson v. Montoya (Wyo., No. 2020 WY 116, Sept. 4, 2020).

David Jackson’s parents created a trust and transferred their property to the trust. The trust provided that the trustee had authority to pay the surviving settlor from the trust property, including selling trust property, as necessary to provide for his or her comfort. The trust also provided that on the death of both parents, the property in the trust should be conveyed to a trust for the benefit of Mr. Jackson’s sister, Candyce Montoya, who was authorized to live on the property rent free. Mr. Jackson became the successor trustee of the trust and wanted to sell the property to pay for his father’s long-term care, so he served an eviction notice on Ms. Montoya. Ms. Montoya refused to vacate the property. 

Mr. Jackson sued, seeking a declaratory judgment that the trust was entitled to the property. The trial court interpreted the trust to grant Ms. Montoya a life estate in the property, which prevented Mr. Jackson from selling the property. Mr. Jackson appealed. 

The Wyoming Supreme Court reverses, holding that Mr. Jackson has authority to sell the property to pay for his father’s long-term care. According to the court, the trust makes clear that the trustee has the right to “sell or deal with any Trust property, in his or her sole discretion, without interference, for the benefit of the surviving settlor’s care, comfort, support, welfare or maintenance, as may be necessary.” The court rules that when the trust provisions are read as a whole, “it is clear” that Ms. Montoya’s interest “will not vest until the death of the remaining settlor.” 

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