Trustee Loots Trust Assets

In The Matter of the Trust under the Will of Antonia Zanengo, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, DOCKET NO. A-4997-09T3, the defendant, James V. Zanengo, a certified public accountant, was appointed as trustee under the Will of Antonia Zanengo, who died in 1994. The named trustee was the trust beneficiary’s nephew. The trust provided that income would be distributed to the decedent’s husband and that the decedent’s grandchildren were the ultimate beneficiaries of the trust. The trust, which was initially funded with about $320,000.00, had virtually no assets for the ultimate distribution to the grandchildren. An action for an accounting was brought against the defendant. The trial judge found that defendant had looted the trust of $374,832.21 from August 2001 through December 2004.

On appeal, the defendant raised three arguments. First – he argued that the plaintiff lacked standing. Second – he argued that the trial judge’s findings were contrary to the evidence. He had presented evidence that his uncle had agreed to pay him $100.00 an hour and had asked him to personally perform many tasks instead of hiring service providers. Third – he argued that he was entitled to compensation in quantum meruit for the services he provided. The Appellate Division rejected all of the defendant’s arguments. More to the point, the Appellate Division held that the trial judge reached a sensible credibility determination in rejecting the contentions that an agreement had been reached to pay the trustee $100.00 per hour for undocumented and vague services. The services allegedly valued at almost $375,000.00 were provided in a matter of just a few years. The defendant trustee did not prove by clear and convincing evidence, as required to do by N.J.S.A. 2A:81-2 that such an agreement with a deceased person existed. Finally, as to quantum meruit, the defendant’s lack of credibility also precluded a determination that he had provided substantial services to his uncle that warranted compensation.

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