Articles Posted in Probate and Trust Litigation

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 ›

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