Matter of Jarvis
Decided on August 26, 2005
Surrogate's Court, Cayuga County
In the Matter of the Estate of Jennifer O. Jarvis, Deceased.
Boyle & Anderson, P. C.
by Stacy L. Tamburrino, Esq.
Attorneys for the Petitioner
James S. Baier, Esq.
Attorney for the Respondent
Dennis F. Bender, J.
Riccarda L. Jarvis has petitioned this Court seeking an order directing the Respondent Dorothy Murphy to pay over certain assets of the estate of the decedent, Jennifer O. Jarvis. The Respondent now moves this Court to dismiss the petition upon the ground that the claim is time barred.
The facts of this sad case have been agreed upon by stipulation. Having considered the same as well as the arguments of counsel, I now find and decide as follows.
The Petitioner is the mother of Jennifer O. Jarvis, and the administrator of Jennifer's estate. The Respondent is Jennifer's paternal grandmother.
On April 10, 1984, Stephen W. Jarvis, Jennifer's father, signed a life insurance enrollment card which named the Respondent as the beneficiary "in trust for Jennifer Jarvis, daughter". The policy became effective May 18, 1984, and Mr. Jarvis committed suicide on June 15th of that year. He was survived by the Petitioner who was his estranged wife, and Jennifer, who was then 5 years of age.
On or about August 3, 1984, the Respondent received a check in the amount of $10,047.50 which represented the death benefit and delayed interest. The check was made payable to "Dorothy Murphy, in Trust for Jennifer Jarvis".
In response to her telephone request, the Petitioner received a letter dated February 6, 1985, from Stephen Jarvis' employer enclosed with which were copies of the enrollment card showing the beneficiary designation, and a receipt signed by the Respondent on August 3, 1984, acknowledging receipt by the Respondent of the insurance proceeds. [*2]
Jennifer died on February 18, 1997 as a result of an automobile accident. Her eighteenth birthday had been on January 24, 1997.
The Petitioner was appointed voluntary administrator of Jennifer's estate on March 20, 1997 by this Court. She was the sole distributee of Jennifer's estate. The Respondent never disbursed any of the insurance proceeds to Jennifer nor to Jennifer's estate. The first request and demand made by the Petitioner to the Respondent concerning the policy proceeds was by way of a letter from the Petitioner's attorney dated March 23, 2004. An accounting of the funds was requested together with payment of funds and accumulated interest to Jennifer's estate. The Respondent did not do so.
All parties resided in Cayuga County during the relevant periods.
Jurisdiction and venue properly lies with this Court.
The Respondent correctly states that Stephen Jarvis failed to establish an express trust in that no duties were assigned to the Respondent. Notwithstanding, it is clear that a constructive trust was in fact created. As Stephen Jarvis' mother, the Respondent was in a confidential relationship with him. By naming her as beneficiary of the insurance proceeds "In Trust for Jennifer Jarvis, Daughter", Mr. Jarvis arranged for the transfer in reliance upon the trust arrangement. Likewise by negotiating the check which was payable to "Dorothy Murphy, In Trust for Jennifer Jarvis", the Respondent implicitly promised to carry out Mr. Jarvis' wishes. Lastly, it is self evident that for the Respondent to have converted the funds to her own use would have involved unjust enrichment. These facts establish the four essential elements of a constructive trust. Simonds v. Simonds, 45 NY2d 233, 241-243.
The date the statute of limitations would have begun to run for enforcement by Jennifer of such a trust is an open question. CPLR 213(1) provides that the statute of limitations is six years, but it does not begin to run until "the party seeking to impose the trust knows or should have known of a wrongful withholding (Augustine v. Szwed, 77 AD2d 298, 432 NYS 2d 962)." Walsh v. Walsh, 91 AD2d 1198 (4th Dept, 1983). Because the monies were not acquired wrongfully in the first instance, this would require evidence of an express repudiation by the Respondent or an "event giving rise to a duty of restitution." Matter of Wallace, 191 AD2d 638 (2nd Dept, 1993). Determination of the latter would require this Court to divine the intent of Stephen Jarvis regarding when he desired the Respondent to pay over the funds to Jennifer. That question was rendered academic, however, by Jennifer's death.
Upon Jennifer's death the funds became an asset payable to her estate, and thus the Respondent had no right to hold the funds beyond that date. The Petitioner was aware that the Respondent possessed the funds and knew or should have known that continued retention after Jennifer's death was wrongful. Because this action was not commenced until some eight years later on April 25, 2005, it is thus time barred. CPLR 208; Walsh v. Walsh, supra.
The motion is hereby granted, without costs, and the petition is hereby dismissed. [*3]
This constitutes the decision and decree of the Court
Dated: August 26, 2005_______________________________________
Dennis F. Bender,
Acting Surrogate Court Judge, Cayuga County