While most parents want the best for their children and strive to provide them with safe and loving environments, others, unfortunately, engage in behavior that causes their children to suffer physical, emotional, and psychological trauma. When parents share custody of a child, they may not always be aware that their co-parent or someone in their household is mistreating their child. As such, it is critical for parents to increase their awareness of subtle indicators of harm so that they can recognize the signs of child abuse. If you believe your child is being harmed by your co-parent or a member of their family or household, it is in your best interest to consult a dedicated California domestic violence attorney to determine your options.

Recognizing the Signs of Child Abuse

Children who are being abused often present with signs of harm throughout their bodies. In other words, they may frequently have broken bones or cuts, scratches, or contusions on their bodies and faces. While many children sustain minor bruises or scrapes when they play, children that are being abused often suffer such bodily harm on a more frequent and extensive basis.

Children who are subject to abuse often become withdrawn as well, which is sadly usually attributed to “moodiness” rather than a symptom of harm. They may also become anxious or angry and may lash out at people other than their abusers. Many victims of child abuse suddenly begin performing poorly in school or lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed. Continue Reading ›

Typically, if a deceased person drafted a will prior to their death, the courts will uphold the will and disburse the person’s assets according to its terms. There are some exceptions, however, as demonstrated in a recent ruling issued by a California court in which the court found it necessary to reform the will based on extrinsic evidence that proved the testator’s intent was contrary to the provisions of the will. If you have questions pertaining to your rights with regard to a loved one’s will, it is smart to consult a California probate and trust lawyer to discuss your options for seeking your desired outcome.

Factual History

It is reported that the testator and her husband married in 1981.  In 2000, the testator executed a trust leaving a rental property to her adult sons from a previous marriage and a pour-over will in which she granted the residue of her estate to the trustee to be administered after her death. She did not advise her husband of her estate plan. The testator died in 2016, after which the defendant, one of her sons, became the trustee.

Allegedly, the defendant then filed a probate petition in which he requested that the testator’s community and separate assets be transferred to the trust, which he alleged was required by the pour-over will. The husband filed a petition seeking reformation of the will to affirm the testator’s intent to only transfer the residue of her separate property into the trust. The court granted his petition, and the defendant appealed. Continue Reading ›

While some step-parents and step-children have a close bond, others have contentious relationships, and it is not uncommon for them to argue over property and assets. In some instances, their disputes continue after the death of the parties that tie them together. This was demonstrated in a recent case in which a step-daughter accused her step-mother of coercing her father into modifying a trust for her benefit. While the court ultimately found in favor of the step-daughter, it declined to award her the double damages she requested on the grounds that she failed to demonstrate bad faith. If another party unjustly violated your right to receive assets from an estate, it is in your best interest to speak to a California probate and trust lawyer to discuss what relief you may be awarded.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that, in 1986, the decedent established a revocable trust. He amended it numerous times after it was established. Specifically, it was modified on seven occasions. The decedent died in 2015, after which litigation surrounding the trust ensued. Specifically, the suit focused on amendments in 2008 and 2012. The decedent’s daughter from a prior marriage sued the decedent’s widow, asserting numerous causes of action. Over time, the claims were whittled down so that all that remained was a claim for an order compelling the return of certain property under Probate Code section 850 and a claim for double damages under Probate Code section 859.

Allegedly, the trial court found a presumption of undue influence with regard to the 2012 amendment. The widow did not rebut the presumption, and the court voided the 2012 amendment and ordered the widow to return the property she had obtained pursuant to the amendment. The daughter appealed, arguing in part that the court’s finding of undue influence required a finding that the wife committed financial abuse of an elder. The daughter further argued that this finding required an award of double damages under Probate Code section 859. Continue Reading ›

When people lose a loved one, they often not only have to contend with the emotional impact of the person’s death, but in many instances, they also have to fight family members who unjustly violate their property interests in the decedent’s estate. The California courts do not view people who dispose of or conceal property that belonged to a decedent in bad faith kindly, and will often issue harsh penalties to parties who engage in such conduct. In a recent California ruling, the court explained what relief is available for parties aggrieved by bad faith conveyances. If you need to protect your property rights in a probate case, it is advisable to consult a California probate and trust lawyer regarding your rights.

The Factual and Procedural History

It is reported that the decedent died in October 2013. Soon after his death, the plaintiff and the defendant began arguing over his estate. First, the defendant petitioned to admit a will purportedly signed by the decedent in 2009 into probate. The plaintiff objected to the petition on numerous grounds, including the allegation that the defendant drafted the will and named herself as the sole beneficiary. He also filed a petition challenging the validity of numerous trust documents the defendant drafted and executed on the decedent’s behalf. The court consolidated the will contest and trust petition.

Allegedly, the court ultimately granted the plaintiff the relief sought via the petition, including the return of multiple parcels of land that belonged to the decedent’s estate, and imposed a penalty of over $10 million, which represented twice the value of the parcels. The defendant appealed, arguing that such penalties were impermissible under the law. Continue Reading ›

People that have substantial assets will often feel pressure to provide for their children financially. In some cases, pressure can progress into outright manipulation.  Older individuals are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse, and tragically, are sometimes coerced by their children into modifying estate planning documents to preclude other beneficiaries. Elder financial abuse is unlawful, though, and parties found guilty of committing such acts may face significant penalties. For example, a California court specifically held that double damages could be imposed for the commission of elder financial abuse even absent a finding of bad faith. If you believe your loved one is a victim of elder abuse, it is in your best interest to meet with a California probate and trust lawyer to evaluate your options.

The Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the plaintiff and the defendant, who are brother and sister, each had complicated relationships with their parents. The plaintiff relied on his parents for financial support throughout his adult life, at one point borrowing $75,000 from them. The defendant was estranged from her parents for a long time because they could not accept her sexuality. Thus, she was largely precluded from recovering benefits from the trust the parents established.

It is reported that the mother passed away, and the defendant and her father reconciled. The father then amended the trust so that the estate would be divided equally between the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff then saw an email the defendant had written accusing him of elder financial abuse. He subsequently made his father execute a statement denying the abuse. The father died a few weeks later. Shortly before his death, he transferred thousands of stock shares and the deed to his property to his son. Continue Reading ›

It is not uncommon for wealthy families to create trusts so that they can pass assets on to their children without facing significant tax penalties.   While beneficiaries are typically granted certain rights with regard to trusts, parties who bear no relation to a trust generally do not have standing to petition the court regarding a trust’s internal affairs. There are exceptions to the general rule, however, as shown in a recent case in which the Supreme Court of California ruled that a person whose status as a beneficiary was eliminated due to fraud, undue influence, or incompetence has standing as well. If you are involved in a dispute regarding a trust, it is prudent to speak to a skillful California probate and trust lawyer to discuss your rights.

History of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff was a beneficiary of the subject trust, which was a family trust. The settlor of the trust, who was the plaintiff’s mother, made a series of amendments to the trust that ultimately eliminated the plaintiff’s shares and expressly disinherited her. The settlor died shortly thereafter. The plaintiff then filed a petition arguing that the amendments in which she was disinherited were invalid because the settlor lacked the competence to make such amendments and the amendments were brought about by the fraud and undue influence of her sisters, who were also beneficiaries of the trust.

Trusts are useful tools that help people protect their wealth and assets for future generations. In some instances, beneficiaries or other parties may be able to modify a trust. If they do, however, they must ensure that they provide notice to anyone who has an interest in the trust; otherwise, the modification may be void. This was demonstrated in a recent California opinion in which the court determined that an alteration to a trust that was made without notice to future beneficiaries was not binding. If you need assistance creating a trust or determining your options in relation to a trust, it is advisable to meet with a seasoned California probate and trust lawyer as soon as possible.

History of the Trust

It is reported that the trustor created a trust for the benefit of his wife during her lifetime. She was granted testamentary power of appointment over the remainder. If she did not exercise her appointment power, the grandfather’s three children and the wife’s child would each receive an equal share. When the trustor died, his children pursued claims against the estate. The wife and the children ultimately entered into an agreement in which the trustor’s children disclaimed any interest in the trust left for the wife.

Allegedly, in 1991 a court issued a decree based on the terms of the agreement that changed the default distribution upon the wife’s death that would allow the entire trust to go to her child. None of the trustor’s grandchildren were involved in the hearings pertaining to the modification. When the wife died, the trustor’s grandson filed a proceeding arguing he was a beneficiary of the trust, as he was not notified of the 1991 proceeding, and no one had the power to bind him. The trial court ruled in favor of the wife’s son, and the grandson appealed. Continue Reading ›

It is an unfortunate reality that many people living in California are victims of domestic abuse. Some survivors are reluctant to share their stories with others for fear the violence may become worse, and the signs of abuse are often subtle, especially if people are not aware of what to look for. As such, it is critical for people to know how to recognize the signs of domestic violence and what steps they can take to help themselves or other victims of abuse. If you or someone you know is being harmed by a family member or former domestic partner, it is prudent to speak to a seasoned California domestic violence attorney to assess your options.

Recognizing the Signs of Domestic Violence

Many of the signs of domestic violence are physical. For example, bruises on the face or body, broken bones, lacerations, and scratches may all indicate that a person is being abused, especially if they occur repeatedly. Victims often wear clothing that covers their wounds, like long sleeves and pants, regardless of the weather.

Domestic violence can cause psychological and mental symptoms as well. For example, victims of abuse are often agitated and apprehensive. They may also develop substance abuse issues. In many instances, they become anxious or depressed and lose interest in daily activities and hobbies. They are also frequently irritable and on-edge. In many instances, the abuser will be very controlling and will not let the victim go anywhere alone or have separate resources like cars, bank accounts, or phones. Abusers often isolate their victims from friends and family as well. Continue Reading ›

California is a community property state, which means that any property acquired by either spouse during a marriage is considered to be owned by each party equally. Either spouse can identify property as separate, though, and it will remain their sole property if they divorce. Certain actions can transmute or modify separate property into community property, though, and anyone with separate property must take care not to take actions that will impair their rights. In 2015, a California appellate court issued a ruling explaining how and when the character of a property is defined and how to determine if transmutation occurred. If you or your spouse own separate property and you are contemplating ending your marriage, it is prudent to speak to a seasoned California divorce attorney about your rights.

Facts of the Case

Reportedly, the husband purchased a home prior to his marriage. By the time the couple married in 1993, the husband had paid off the mortgage. He also had a retirement account that he contributed to prior to getting married, which he stopped paying into at the time of the marriage. The couple lived in the home but after a few years decided to move to a town called Westlake. The husband retained the separate home, however. He made the down payment for the Westlake home from the separate retirement account and took out a mortgage loan in his name only. The loan application stated that the title to the house would be in the husband’s name, and the deed stated it was granted to him and his sole and separate property.

It is alleged that the husband sold his separate home and used the mortgage proceeds to pay for the Westlake home. The wife filed for divorce twelve years later. A prime point of contention was whether the Westlake home was community or separate property or a combination of the two. The court ultimately ruled that it was community property, and the husband appealed. Continue Reading ›

California courts tasked with determining custody of a child will set forth an order that they feel is in the child’s best interest. The courts weigh numerous factors to determine what is best for a child, including the health of each parent, the likelihood of either parent to help maintain and foster the child’s relationship with the co-parent, and whether the child has special needs.

One factor that was not likely to be considered, though, is how a global pandemic would impact custody and visitation. As such, many parents find themselves questioning how they can safely maintain their custody and visitation rights while abiding by COVID-19 restrictions. If you share custody of a child and need legal advice on how to protect your parental rights and your child’s and your health, it is advisable to confer with a knowledgeable California child custody attorney to discuss your case.

The Impact of California’s COVID-19 Orders on Child Custody Orders

California’s Governor has issued multiple orders since March 2020 to protect the public health of Californians and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, including stay at home orders. These orders do not permit parents to discard the terms of child custody or visitation orders, though. Rather, parents must continue to comply with such orders. Continue Reading ›

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