Articles Posted in Probate and Trust Litigation

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 ›

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