May 21, 2013
IN RE: DONALD L. MCKINNEY, DECEASED APPEAL OF: JANE D. MCKINNEY IN RE: JANE MCKINNEY DESCENDANTS' TRUST APPEAL OF: JANE D. MCKINNEY
Appeal from the Decree of January 5, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County Orphans' Court at No(s): No. O.C. 1972-329
Appeal from the Decree of January 5, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County Orphans' Court at No(s): No. O.C. 2010-223
BEFORE: MUSMANNO, J., WECHT, J., and COLVILLE, J. [*]
We are called upon here to assess the interplay between the contemporary world of corporate banking and Pennsylvania's law of trusts.
In this case, the settlors established trusts that lacked portability clauses. Nonetheless, Pennsylvania's Probate, Estates, and Fiduciaries Code ["PEF Code"] was amended in 2006 to add a "no-fault" provision allowing a trustee to be changed due to "substantial change of circumstances." 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 766(b)(4). Here, the question arises whether a family's movement over time from northwestern Pennsylvania to the Tidewater region of Virginia, coupled with the fact that the original trustee institution has gone through approximately six corporate mergers leading to entirely different bank officers involved in administering the trusts, represents a change of circumstances substantial enough to come within the no-fault statutory provisions.
Following careful review, we conclude that the beneficiaries were within their rights to petition for removal of the trustee. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand with the instruction that the petition for the removal of PNC Bank as trustee be granted, pending approval of Appellant's proposed successor trustee. In light of our ruling, we also reverse the trial court's judgment authorizing the reimbursement of PNC's legal fees associated with contesting the removal.
The trial court outlined the history of these trusts, chronicling the movement of Appellant's family and the merger of numerous banks that resulted in the current trustee:
Before the Court are two petitions, both seeking the removal of PNC Bank, National Association, Trustee (hereinafter "PNC") as trustee of two separate trusts referred to throughout this Memorandum as the "Testamentary Trust" and the "Descendants' Trust." The trust assets are considerable.
The Testamentary Trust appears in the Will of the late Donald L. McKinney, executed in the early part of 1964. This Testamentary Trust came into existence upon the death of Donald L. McKinney in 1971. The Pennsylvania Bank and Trust Company ["Bank and Trust"] became the trustee under the terms of the Will. The late Donald L. McKinney's daughter, Jane D. McKinney (hereinafter "Petitioner")[, ] was the named primary beneficiary entitled to the income generated from the trust for her life. The secondary or residuary beneficiaries are her children. She has four adult children, Jane D. Cullipher, Catherine Morrison, David Fletcher Currier III, and Edward McKinney Currier.
The Jane McKinney Descendants' Trust, i.e. the Descendants' Trust, was created by Petitioner's mother, Katherine Dillen McKinney Brawner (hereinafter "Katherine McKinney"), by trust instrument dated October 17, 1989. Katherine McKinney was the wife of Donald L. McKinney. The Descendants' Trust names Pennbank as the Trustee. Pennbank was a successor bank to [Bank and Trust]. Thus, as of October 17, 1989, Pennbank administered both the Descendants' Trust and the Testamentary Trust, both of which name Petitioner as the primary beneficiary, with the secondary or residuary beneficiaries being Petitioner's children.
Petitioner seeks the removal of PNC Bank, the trustee of both trusts. Petitioner requests that the Court approve the appointment of SunTrust Delaware Trust Company (hereinafter "SunTrust Delaware") as the successor trustee. Petitioner alleges that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that warrants a change of trustees and that PNC Bank has failed to properly service the needs of the beneficiaries. She opposes the payment of PNC Bank's attorneys fees from the trusts in defending against these removal petitions. She notes that there were two other trusts in which PNC Bank was trustee, both of which contained portability clauses, and that PNC did not object to the appointment of SunTrust Delaware as the successor trustee of those trusts. Petitioner contends that the appointment of SunTrust Delaware will enhance access by the beneficiaries to the trustee since all of the beneficiaries reside in Virginia, and will aid in the comprehensive financial planning and estate management needs of the primary and secondary beneficiaries. Petitioner asserts that having one financial institution rather than two, PNC and SunTrust Delaware, would make it easier to plan the financial needs of the beneficiaries.
PNC filed an answer to both petitions, contending that there has not been a substantial change in circumstances to warrant removal and vigorously objects to claims that it has not properly serviced these trusts. PNC also challenges the suitability of SunTrust Delaware to serve as the successor trustee and claims the right to have its attorneys fees paid in defending against the petitions.
In support of the substantial change in circumstances argument, Petitioner points to the several different trustees that have administered the trusts over the last 40 years by way of mergers and acquisitions. The original named trustee of the Testamentary Trust, [Bank and Trust], later became Pennbank. Pennbank served as trustee of both the Testamentary Trust and the Descendants' Trust for a period before merging with and becoming [Integra National Bank North.] On May 24, 1995, Integra Bank North merged with other Integra Banks and became Integra Bank. A year later, Integra Bank converted to a national banking association and changed its name to National City Bank of Pennsylvania. National City Bank of Pennsylvania then merged with other National City banks across the country becoming National City Bank. Through National City Corporation's merger with PNC Bank Financial Services Group, Inc., National City Bank became a wholly owned subsidiary of PNC Bank Financial Services Group, Inc. The trust operation[s] of PNC Bank and National City Bank remained separate until the bank operations merged on November 6, 2009[, ] at which point PNC Bank became the trustee of the two trusts.
Petitioner has not resided in Pennsylvania since 1964, when she moved to New York to marry. She has resided primarily in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, which is also the area in which her four children reside. Although her children have not joined in these petitions, they support Petitioner. Petitioner contends that her financial planning needs and those of her children have changed substantially over the years and that these changes merit the appointment of a successor trustee.
Trial Court Opinion ["T.C.O."], 1/9/12, at 1-4 (citations to exhibits omitted).
The trial court denied Appellant's petition, and awarded PNC attorneys' fees. Appellant filed a notice of appeal. The trial court ordered Appellant to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). Appellant timely complied. The trial court entered an order directing our attention to its January 9, 2012 memorandum and order in lieu of a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion.
Appellant presents the following issues for our review:
1) Whether the trial court erred and abused its discretion by failing to find that petitioner proved by clear and convincing evidence that PNC Bank should be removed as trustee of the two trusts and SunTrust appointed as successor trustee under 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 7766? a. The trial Court erred and abused its discretion in failing to find that the interests of the beneficiaries would be best served by removal of PNC Bank as trustee and appointment of SunTrust as successor trustee.
b. The trial court erred and abused its discretion in finding that removal of PNC Bank and appointment of SunTrust as successor trustee is inconsistent with a material purpose of the trust.
c. The trial court erred and abused its discretion in failing to find that substantial changes in circumstances have occurred which warrant removal of PNC Bank as trustee and appointment of SunTrust as successor trustee.
2) Whether the trial court erred and abused its discretion in awarding counsel fees to PNC Bank?
Appellant's Brief at [i], 5.
We begin our analysis with a recitation of our standard of review in an appeal of an Orphan's Court decree:
[We] must determine whether the record is free from legal error and the court's factual findings are supported by the evidence. Because the Orphans' Court sits as the fact-finder, it determines the credibility of the witnesses and, on review, we will not reverse its credibility determinations absent an abuse of that discretion. However, we are not constrained to give the same deference to any resulting legal conclusions. Where the rules of law on which the court relied are palpably wrong or clearly inapplicable, we will reverse the court's decree.
In re Estate of Brown, 30 A.3d 1200, 1206 (Pa. Super. 2011) (citing In re Estate of Miller, 18 A.3d 1163, 1169 (Pa. Super. 2011) (en banc)).
This is the first instance in which we have been asked to interpret and apply Section 7766(b)(4), a provision which permits the removal of a trustee due to a substantial change in circumstances. Prior to the General
Assembly's adoption of Chapter 77 of the PEF Code, which contains the provision at issue, a person seeking removal was required to show fault or negligence on the part of the trustee. See 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 7121, deleted by 2006, July 7, P.L. 625, No. 98, § 4. Fault grounds for removal are codified in the current version of the PEF Code at 20 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 7766(b)(1)-(3), and a trustee's failure adequately to administer the trust remains the main basis for trustee removal.
Section 7766(b)(4), which provides for removal when a substantial change in circumstances has occurred, is the other possible basis for removal. However, a substantial change in circumstances alone will not suffice. One seeking no-fault removal of a trustee also must show the existence of additional requirements codified at Section 7766(b). Section 7766(b)(4) provides:
§ 7766. Removal of trustee – UTC 706
(b) When court may remove trustee. – The court may remove a trustee if it finds that removal of the trustee best serves the interests of the beneficiaries of the trust and is not inconsistent with a material purpose of the trust, a suitable cotrustee or successor trustee is available and:
(4) there has been a substantial change of circumstances. A corporate reorganization of an institutional trustee, including a plan of merger or consolidation, is not itself a substantial change of circumstances.
20 Pa.C.S.A. § 7766(b)(4).
Therefore, a person seeking trustee removal pursuant to Section 7766(b)(4) must show by clear and convincing evidence that: (1) the removal serves the beneficiaries' best interests; (2) the removal is not inconsistent with a material purpose of the trust; (3) a suitable successor trustee is available; and (4) a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. Id.; see In re Estate of Mumma, 41 A.3d 41, 50 (Pa. Super. 2012), reargument denied (Apr. 26, 2012) (removal of trustee requires showing of "clear and convincing" evidence). If all of the requirements are met, then the trial court, in its discretion, "may remove" the trustee through an exercise of its discretion. 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 7766(b).
The trial court here found that Appellant failed to present clear and convincing evidence sufficient to establish all of the requirements for removal under this no-fault statutory provision. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the trial court's factual findings are unsupported by the record and that the trial court committed errors of law that require reversal of the trial court's decree.
We begin by identifying the analysis required in a cause of action pursuant to Section 7766(b)(4). As always, the interpretation of a statute is a question of law, and our primary objective is to give effect to the intent of the General Assembly. Tritt v. Cortes, 851 A.2d 903, 904 (Pa. 2004) (citing 1 Pa.C.S.A. § 1921(a)). "In this regard, the plain language of a statute is the foremost indication of legislative intent. When there is an interpretation available that gives effect to all of the statute's phrases and does not lead to an absurd result, that interpretation must prevail." Id. (citations omitted). In any trustee removal action, the plain language of the statue requires that the petitioner show that removal "best serves the interests of the beneficiaries of the trust." 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 7766(b).
However, the statute itself sheds no light upon how the interests of the beneficiaries are to be defined. As this is a recently adopted provision within Pennsylvania, there is a dearth of case law to which we can refer for interpretive guidance.
Of some use is the prefatory comment to Chapter 77 of the PEF Code, which states that Chapter 77 is based upon the Uniform Trust Code ["UTC"]. 20 Pa.C.S.A., Ch. 77, Refs. & Annos. (2005). However, not all sections of the UTC were adopted into the PEF Code. Id. Further, several PEF Code provisions, while based upon the UTC, were substantially rewritten by our General Assembly. Id. Sections of the chapter that are substantially similar to their equivalent provisions contained in the UTC are indicated as such by a reference to the relevant UTC section number in the PEF Code section headings. Id. For these provisions, the General Assembly has indicated that "the UTC comments are applicable to the extent of similarity." Id. Section 7766 is marked as a section that was based upon the UTC, to which the UTC comments are applicable.,  See 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 7766. The commentary of the UTC in regard to the definition of best interests states: "The term 'interests of the beneficiaries' means the beneficial interests as provided in the terms of the trust, not as defined by the beneficiaries." UTC § 706, Commentary (2000). While this makes clear that the "best interests" are to be defined according to the trust terms and not according to the subjective will of the beneficiaries, the manner in which courts are to utilize the terms of the trust in determining the best interests of the beneficiaries remains unclear. The language does suggest that the settlor's intent is paramount in this analysis, and courts traditionally strive to give effect to that intent when interpreting a trust document. See In re Estate of Warden, 2 A.3d 565, 572 (Pa. Super. 2010) ("The settled law in Pennsylvania is that 'the pole star in every trust ... is the settlor's ... intent and that intent must prevail.'").
What is not required of Appellant under a cause of action pursuant to Section 7766(b)(4), but was considered by the trial court in this case, is a showing that the current trustee has administered the trust in a way that "undermined" or "harmed" the beneficiaries' interests. T.C.O. at 8. Such a showing would be relevant under the previous version of this section of the PEF Code or under the other subsections of 7766(b)(1)-(3). However, to require a showing of fault at Section 7766(b) would undermine the intent of the General Assembly in creating a no-fault provision for trustee removal at Section 7766(b)(4).,  Indeed, the commentary to Section (b) states that "A trustee may be removed for untoward action, such as for a serious breach of trust, but the section is not so limited." UTC § 706, Commentary (2000). The trial court erred in its analysis under Section 7766(b)(4) by relying upon a finding that Appellant failed to show that PNC's mismanagement of the trust had harmed the beneficiaries' interests.
Having ruled out one possible interpretation of what is meant by "best serves the interests of the beneficiaries of the trust, " we are left to determine what analysis is necessary under this requirement. Because
Section 7766 is based upon the UTC's equivalent provision, we may review how our sister states have interpreted their trustee removal laws that are also based upon the UTC and, therefore, are substantially similar to our own. Connecticut, Missouri, and Utah courts all have been presented with cases requiring their courts to define beneficiaries' best interests in the context of no-fault trustee removal. See Rapela v. Green, 289 P.3d 428 (Utah 2012); Davis v. U.S. Bank Nat. Ass'n, 243 S.W.3d 425 (Mo.Ct.App. 2007); In re Fleet Nat. Bank's Appeal from Probate, 837 A.2d 785 (Conn. 2004); Fleet Bank v. Foote, No. CV020087512S, 2003 WL 22962488 (Conn. Super. Ct. Dec. 2, 2003). These courts uniformly have found that implicit in the best interests analysis is a comparison between the current trustee and the proposed successor trustee. Rapela, 289 P.3d at 435 ("[A] district court may permissibly compare the characteristics of an existing trustee with potential successor trustees when applying the best interests test."); Davis, 243 S.W.3d at 430 (comparing location, tax consequences, personal understanding of trusts involved, and cost of administrative fees of current trustee and proposed successor trustee); Fleet Nat. Bank, 837 A.2d at 797 ("[T]he focus of subdivision (4) is upon whether there is another entity that, for some reason, may perform better or provide different and more desirable benefits as administrator, or is otherwise better suited to serve as fiduciary for a particular trust.").
In Rapela, the Utah Supreme Court permitted the removal of a trustee where the successor trustee was more experienced with the trust at issue and was more qualified. 89 P.3d at 435. The Davis Court permitted removal of a trustee because the successor trustee was a thirty-minute drive from the beneficiaries' homes; the successor trustee was based in the beneficiaries' state enabling avoidance of out-of-state trust income tax; the successor trustee had a "complete understanding of" the beneficiaries' "unique personal financial situation"; and the successor trustee charged lower fees. Davis, 243 S.W.3d at 430. In Fleet Nat. Bank, the probate court found that the removal of the trustee in question was in the best interests of the beneficiaries because:
(a) [the successor trustee] already administered other trusts for the benefit of the [beneficiaries] and to centralize management in one fiduciary would increase convenience and efficiency, (b) the services offered by [the successor trustee] were more personalized than those of the [trustee], and (c) the fees charged by [the successor trustee] were lower than those imposed by the [trustee].
37 A.2d at 788. Similarly, in Foote, the probate court found that the removal of a trustee best served the beneficiaries' interests, because the removal allowed the beneficiaries to follow bank personnel, who had become the beneficiaries' trusted advisors, to a new corporate trustee. Foote, 2003 WL 22962488 at *3.
We are persuaded by the case law from our sister jurisdictions. We conclude that courts should consider the following factors when determining whether a current trustee or a proposed successor trustee best serves the interests of the beneficiaries: personalization of service; cost of administration; convenience to the beneficiaries; efficiency of service; personal knowledge of trusts' and beneficiaries' financial situations; location of trustee as it affects trust income tax; experience; qualifications; personal relationship with beneficiaries; settlor's intent as expressed in the trust document; and any other material circumstances. Rapela, 289 P.3d at 435-36; Davis, 243 S.W.3d at 430-31; Fleet Nat. Bank, 837 A.2d at 797 n.17; Foote, 2003 WL 22962488 at *3. No one factor in this nonexhaustive list will outweigh the others. Rather, the trial court is to consider these factors if the parties present evidence thereof, on a case-by-case basis.
Appellant raises several of these factors in asserting that SunTrust Delaware, not PNC, will best serve the beneficiaries' interests. Appellant explains that, while her father and mother, each a settlor of one of the two trusts in question, had an ongoing relationship with Bank and Trust (the original trustee designated in the 1964 will), that company no longer exists. Appellant never attempted to remove the trustee previously because, although the trustee changed approximately six times as a result of bank mergers, the individuals with whom she worked at the banks remained the same. Those bank officers knew Appellant's family members and their history, resulting in personalized administration of the trusts. As a result of the most recent merger, in which PNC assumed the role of trustee, those bank personnel no longer administer the trusts. They have been replaced by individuals whom Appellant asserts are "ineffective and unresponsive." Appellant's Brief at 12-13. Appellant wishes to consolidate her legacy banking with SunTrust Delaware, not only because SunTrust Delaware currently serves as trustee for four other family trusts, but also because SunTrust Delaware is based in Virginia along with Appellant and all of the other beneficiaries. While PNC has offices in Virginia, only one of those offices is capable of performing trust administration, and that office is in northern Virginia, not in the Tidewater area. Appellant asserts that consolidating the family wealth at SunTrust Delaware will allow for more efficient administration of the assets and allow the banking personnel, along with her investment advisor who also is based in Virginia, easy access to one another.
PNC presents little countervailing evidence. PNC asserts that SunTrust Delaware lacks experience in administering trusts governed by Pennsylvania law. We find this argument unconvincing. Pennsylvania trust law now poses no distinct peculiarities setting it apart from that of other states, and requiring highly specialized and localized knowledge. PNC also claims that Appellant's "friendly" relationship with SunTrust Delaware would allow Appellant to assert influence over SunTrust Delaware, such that SunTrust Delaware would be inclined to administer the trusts with the goal of achieving Appellant's interests at the expense of the settlors' wishes. In particular, PNC asserts that SunTrust Delaware would be more likely to terminate one of the trusts, which PNC declined to do. The trial court found this argument convincing. However, such a finding is speculative and is unsupported by the record. Lisa Wilkins, SunTrust Delaware Chief Operating Officer, testified that the beneficiaries had never proposed, and SunTrust Delaware has never contemplated, the possibility of terminating the trusts. Notes of Testimony ["N.T."], 8/18/11, at 120-21. We find that the trial court erred in making a contrary factual finding, as it is unsupported by the record.
We are persuaded that the beneficiaries' best interests will be served by replacing PNC in the role of trustee with SunTrust Delaware. SunTrust Delaware offers the beneficiaries personalized service, greater convenience due to their co-location in Virginia, more efficient service due to SunTrust Delaware's administration of several family trusts, and greater personal knowledge of the overall financial service needs of the beneficiaries. In summary, the trial court committed legal error in requiring Appellant to show fault on PNC's part and in basing its ruling upon a factual finding that was unsupported by the record. Appellant has demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that removal is in the beneficiaries' best interests.
Next, Appellant asserts that the trial court erred in finding that the removal of PNC as trustee is inconsistent with a material purpose of the trust. In this analysis, we must determine whether the designation of the trustee is a material purpose of the trust. See UTC § 706, Commentary (2000) ("Subsection (b)(4) of this section similarly allows the qualified beneficiaries to request removal of the trustee if the designation of the trustee was not a material purpose of the trust."). The commentary pertaining to this analysis states:
It has traditionally been more difficult to remove a trustee named by the settlor than a trustee named by the court, particularly if the settlor at the time of the appointment was aware of the trustee's failings. Because of the discretion normally granted to a trustee, the settlor's confidence in the judgment of the particular person whom the settlor selected to act as trustee is entitled to considerable weight. This deference to the settlor's choice can weaken or dissolve if a substantial change in the trustee's circumstances occurs.
UTC § 706, Commentary (2000) (internal citation omitted). We also have emphasized that, where a settlor personally chooses an individual to act as trustee, the selection "represents an expression of trust and confidence, and removal of a personally chosen individual is thus considered to be a drastic remedy." Mumma, 41 A.3d at 50 (citation and quotation marks omitted).
In this case, the settlors did not personally choose an individual to act as trustee. Rather, the settlors chose a particular bank: Bank and Trust. Indeed, Appellant's ancestors started Titusville Trust company, which later became Bank and Trust. N.T. at 27-28. Appellant's family had strong ties to Bank and Trust, with relatives serving on Bank and Trust's Board of Directors. Id. Later generations have not been involved in the banking industry. As time passed, Bank and Trust underwent a series of mergers, the result being that the named trustee, Bank and Trust, no longer exists. The trustee has changed approximately six times. With each merger, the trusts became farther removed from the original trustee. The process of attenuation is complete.
The trial court was persuaded that a material purpose of the trusts was that they be governed by a Pennsylvania institution. The trial court noted that Descendants' Trust expressly provided that any successor to PennBank, the name that Bank and Trust adopted in 1980, through merger or acquisition, would replace PennBank as trustee. See Descendants' Trust at VI-2 ¶ (C). The Testamentary Trust did not name a successor trustee in the event that Bank and Trust merged with or was acquired by another bank.
The trial court found that both settlors would have been aware that banks often undergo mergers and acquisitions. T.C.O. at 11. In light of this assumed knowledge, the trial court concluded: "If either had intended that the trustee of these trusts would be subject to removal for the mere convenience of the then living and known beneficiaries at any given time, they would have authorized such action." Id.
To read the absence of an express intention to permit portability as disallowing portability would render Section 7766(b)(4) a nullity. Had the trusts contained portability clauses, Appellant would not be in court. She simply would have exercised the clause. Applying the same logic, we could conclude that, had the settlors desired that the trusts be administered by Pennsylvania banks, they would have included that requirement in the trusts explicitly. Indeed, the settlors did specify that the trusts must be governed by Pennsylvania law, but did not indicate that the trustees must be Pennsylvania banks. In fact, from 2006 to 2009, when the settlor of the Descendants' Trust was still alive, the trust was being managed by National City Bank, an Ohio bank.
While the settlors may have desired that Bank and Trust serve as trustee, when that bank dissolved, that desire could no longer be fulfilled. We cannot conclude that PNC's role as trustee now serves a purpose material to the trusts. There is no evidence that the settlors ever even contemplated PNC serving as trustee. When the chosen trustee no longer exists, the only material purpose that can be served through designating a trustee is that the trustee effectively administers the trusts. Where both the trustee and the proposed successor trustee are qualified to serve that purpose, we will not find that removal violates a material purpose of the trust. Appellant has sustained her burden of proof in establishing that removal of PNC as trustee is not inconsistent with a material purpose of the trusts. The trial court erred in finding otherwise.
Our final line of inquiry is whether Appellant has established that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. It is clear that merger or corporate reorganization alone does not constitute a change in circumstances:
Changed circumstances justifying removal of a trustee might include a substantial change in the character of the service or location of the trustee. A corporate reorganization of an institutional trustee is not itself a change of circumstances if it does not affect the service provided the individual trust account.
UTC § 706, Commentary (2000). While legal commentators have suggested what might constitute a substantial change in circumstances, we have found no case law that has defined the focus of this analysis.After careful consideration, we find under the circumstances of this case that a string of mergers over several years, resulting in the loss of trusted bank personnel, coupled with the movement of a family from Pennsylvania to Virginia, constitutes a substantial change in circumstances.
Upon the appointment of PNC as successor trustee, the character of service provided to Appellant changed. Appellant had become familiar with three key bank officers, with whom she had worked for many years and whom she trusted to administer the trusts properly. After the most recent merger, all three of those individuals ceased to work at PNC. N.T. at 155. The transition to new bank personnel marked a change in the character of banking services that Appellant had come to expect. Appellant testified that, from September 2009 to March 2010, the bank "only seemed to do things when I called above other people's heads, problems getting statements, problems with getting other people's statements, problems having Mom's statements sent to other parties. I've had a hard time getting them to do what I consider basic banking services." N.T. at 45. The PNC relationship manager assigned to the trust accounts changed multiple times immediately after the merger, with the most recent manager being removed for failing to return phone calls. N.T. at 167- 68; 179. The manager currently assigned to these trust accounts admitted that he had not contacted Appellant or anyone in the McKinney family in regard to the administration of the trust accounts for a period of over eleven months, starting in September of 2010 and continuing as of the time of trial. N.T. at 155-56. While PNC may competently administer the trusts in question, Appellant has established that the character of that service has changed since PNC assumed responsibility for the administration of the trusts.
At the same time that the trust administration services have declined, Appellant's financial planning needs have increased due to the inheritance of her grandmother's ten-million-dollar estate. N.T. at 56. Appellant asserts that she must make several changes to her finances in order to minimize her tax exposure, and that her financial advisors in Virginia, where all of her other finances are located, stand ready to implement those changes. Id. at 58. Appellant's financial advisors and attorneys meet approximately bi- monthly in Williamsburg, Virginia. PNC has not been involved in those meetings. Id. at 58-59.
Appellant had a personal relationship with several key advisors who left during or right after the merger with PNC. Those trusted advisors no longer service Appellant's trusts. While the McKinney family resided in Pennsylvania at the time these trusts were formed, the family has long since migrated collectively to Virginia. Currently, no beneficiaries reside in Pennsylvania. Joint Stipulations of Fact and Law, August 9, 2011, at 3 ¶¶16-17. The series of mergers not only caused a change in the character of service provided by the trustee, but also weakened the family ties to the original trustee to the point of dissolution. When viewed in conjunction with the fact that Appellant and all of her children reside in and engage in financial planning in Virginia, this constitutes a substantial change in circumstances. N.T. at 70-71. The trial court erred in finding that Appellant failed to establish a substantial change in circumstances by clear and convincing evidence.
In light of our resolution of the question of removal, we also reverse the trial court's award of counsel fees to PNC Bank, without prejudice to PNC's right to seek attorneys' fees following further proceedings. On remand, the trial court must make a definitive finding as to the suitability of SunTrust Delaware as a successor trustee.
Decree reversed and remanded. Jurisdiction relinquished.