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Aoki v. Aoki

Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division
985 N.Y.S.2d 523 (2014)


Rocky Aoki, the founder of Benihana restaurants, created the Benihana Protective Trust (BPT) to hold assets relating to Benihana. To serve as trustees, Aoki named two of his six children, Kevin and Kana Aoki, and his longtime attorney, Darwin Dornbush (plaintiffs). The BPT gave Rocky the power to appoint beneficiaries of BPT assets through his will. Several years later, Rocky married Keiko Aoki. Concerned about Keiko’s access to BPT assets upon Rocky’s death, the trustees persuaded Rocky to execute an irrevocable partial release by which he restricted his appointive power so as to benefit one or more descendants only. [A few months later, Rocky signed a second, similar release with minor alterations because of a change in federal tax regulations.] After Rocky’s relationship with his children deteriorated, Rocky signed a codicil in which he purported to exercise his power of appointment, giving 25 percent of the BPT to Keiko outright and income from the remaining 75 percent to Keiko during her lifetime. Rocky later executed a new will in which he restated the appointment of trust assets and income to Keiko but added that, if the exercise of such appointive power were deemed invalid, he exercised his power by giving Devon and Steven Aoki each 50 percent of the BPT. After Rocky’s death, the trustees petitioned for a determination of the validity of the partial releases. [The trial court ruled that the partial releases were invalid. Devon and Steven appealed.]

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Per Curiam)

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