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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

How will a Minnesota court interpret a trust?

One of the reasons trust disputes emerge in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is that the document creating the trust is not clearly written. An unclear document, incidentally, is not always the fault of the person drafting it; sometimes, the lack of clarity is intentional, and, at other times, there was just no language available that could clearly address the issue at hand.

If people who are involved in a dispute about trust administration cannot come to an agreement among themselves, then it falls upon Minnesota courts to interpret a trust document. In every case, the court's goal will be to carry out what the person who created the trust, or the "grantor," intended.

The Minnesota courts have refused to cherry pick particular words and phrases in a trust document; instead the court will read the document as a whole, giving most words their commonly understood meaning, and special terms of art, like legal language, their technical meaning.

One of the key questions for a court is whether, after reading the entire trust document, there is still some meaningful question about what the document means under the particular circumstances. If the document is clear as a whole, then a person's insistence upon his or her own interpretation of the document will likely be ignored. On the other hand, if a true ambiguity exists, then the court will ordinarily allow those litigating the case to present additional outside evidence as to what the document means.

A dispute over what a trust means can be a complicated legal matter, particularly when there are legal terms of art in the trust document or when the meaning of the trust really is not clear.

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