Tubbs v. BerkowitzAnnotate this Case
Janice Tubbs challenged certain assets her father, Harry William Berkowitz transferred to himself after his wife passed away. Berkowitz and his wife, Janice's parents, created The Berkowitz Family Trust (the Trust). The Trust provided for the allocation of assets to a surviving spouse’s trust and a marital appointment trust (the Marital Trust) upon the death of either Berkowitz or his wife. The surviving spouse’s trust and the Marital Trust included a general power of appointment allowing the surviving spouse to designate a person who would receive the Trust assets. Under that power of appointment, the surviving spouse could designate himself or herself as the person who would receive the assets. Berkowitz exercised this power of appointment after his wife passed away and transferred all the Trust assets to himself, effectively divesting Tubbs and her children who were contingent beneficiaries. According to Tubbs, Berkowitz’s fiduciary duties as the successor trustee limited his exercise of the power of appointment. Berkowitz moved for summary judgment contending he had the right to transfer all assets to himself pursuant to the general power of appointment provisions, which allowed him to act in a nonfiduciary capacity. The court granted Berkowitz’s motion for summary judgment and found the general power of appointment provisions gave him unfettered discretion. Because the power of appointment was given to the surviving spouse, and not the trustee, the court rejected Tubbs’s contention that Berkowitz’s discretion was limited by his role as the successor trustee. On appeal, Tubbs contended the court erred because Berkowitz was bound by his fiduciary duties as trustee when he exercised the general power of appointment. Finding no error in the trial court's judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed summary judgment.