In 1990, Irving Helsel established the “The 1990 Irving Helsel Family Trust” (the Trust), which included the “Irving Helsel Family Trust” (Family Trust) and the “Irving Helsel Exempt Trust” (Exempt Trust). He designated his children, Frederic and Bonnie, as beneficiaries of the Family Trust.

The Family Trust allowed for distribution of the principal to Bonnie as necessary for her health, education, support and maintenance. Bonnie suffered from schizophrenia, so trust distributions were often used on doctor’s visits. Upon Bonnie’s death, the remaining principal of the Family Trust was to be distributed to Irving’s grandchildren (Frederic’s children), Monica and Samuel Helsel. With respect to the Exempt Trust, Bonnie’s share of the principal could be distributed only if all other financial resources were depleted. Upon Bonnie’s death, the remaining principal of the Exempt Trust was to be distributed to Monica and Samuel.

Due to her illness, Bonnie lost contact with her family and disappeared from 2000 to 2002, and again from 2003 to 2013. Bonnie’s share of the Family Trust was held for her benefit during those periods. When Bonnie was located in 2013, she was living in a nursing home in the Bronx. A New York court declared Bonnie mentally incompetent, and New York attorney Michael S. Goldstein was appointed as guardian of Bonnie’s person and property.

Four months later, Monica and Fredric, in their capacity as co-trustees of the Trust, filed an order to show cause and a verified complaint in the Chancery Division, seeking to clarify the parameters of the Trust because attorney Goldstein wanted to liquidate the Family Trust to pay for Bonnie’s care. In response, attorney Goldstein filed a counterclaim against the co-trustees, seeking to have them removed as co- trustees of the Family Trust and Exempt Trust and have all their assets distributed to him as Bonnie’s Guardian.

After trial, the judge ruled that Monica and Fredric should only be removed as co-trustees of the Family Trust, because their actions did not rise to intentional or malicious conduct. In Monica and Fredric’s stead, the judge appointed two independent lawyers as substitute co-trustees. The judge also found there was no basis to support Goldstein’s request to dissolve the Trust and transfer the assets to him as Bonnie’s Guardian. Finally, the judge determined the parties were entitled to the following reasonable attorney’s fees and costs: Monica and Fredric’s counsel was awarded $146,820.50 in fees plus $531.93 in costs, and Goldstein’s counsel was awarded $153,750.79 in fees plus $1,721.91 7 in costs. All fees and costs were to be paid from the Family Trust. The judge also approved the accounting of the Family Trust.

Monica and Samuel appealed, along with attorney Goldstein. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision in all respects, except the appeals court agreed that the trial judge failed to address Goldstein’s objections to the final accounting submitted by the co-trustees. Therefore, the appeals court remanded the case “so that the judge can explain his reasons for dismissing Goldstein’s objections in accord with Rule 1:7-4.”

The case is annexed here – IMO 1990 Helsel Family Trust

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Donald D. Vanarelli has been a practicing attorney since 1983 in New Jersey and New York. Don provides legal services in the areas of elder law, estate planning, trust administration, special education, special needs planning and trial advocacy, including probate litigation, will contests, contested guardianships and elder abuse trials.

Don is a Certified Elder Law Attorney, an Accredited Veterans Attorney and a Past Chair of the Elder and Disability Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association. Don is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor given by the New Jersey State Bar Association – Elder and Disability Law Section. The Lifetime Achievement Award is bestowed on an attorney with an established history of distinguished service who has made significant contributions in the field of elder and disability law throughout his or her career.

Don is actively involved in trial advocacy on behalf of elderly and disabled citizens. Don represented the plaintiff in a pivotal special needs trust case decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court entitled Saccone v. Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, 219 N.J. 369 (2014). He also represented the plaintiff in a seminal estate planning / guardianship / Medicaid planning case entitled In re Keri, 181 N.J. 50 (2004). Don was also co-counsel representing the plaintiff in Galletta v. Velez, Civil No. 13-532 (D.N.J. June 3, 2014) in which a federal court ruled, for the first time, that a pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs may not be counted as income in determining Medicaid eligibility.

When he’s not working, Don spends his time with his wife, Marion, and his three children, Julianne, Evan and Alex.