Court Discusses Bad Faith Property Conveyances in California Probate Matters

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.

Liability for Bad Faith Conveyances of Probate Property

Section 850 of the Probate Code provides means for a court to determine the right to own or possess property that allegedly belong to a decedent or another person. Additionally, it specifies what individuals may file a petition to obtain such a determination. If the court determines that a petitioner demonstrated the right to property in possession of another party, the petitioner may recover the property under Section 856 of the Probate Code.

In other words, if the court is satisfied that a property transfer should be made, it will issue an order directing the person with possession of the property to execute a conveyance to the person entitled to it, or grant any other appropriate relief. Further, if the court finds that the person in possession of the property took it in bad faith, Section 859 of the probate code dictates that the person shall be liable for twice the value of the property. Based on the foregoing, the court found that the law unambiguously provided for the imposition of damages reflecting twice the value of the property in question, and affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak to a Knowledgeable California Probate and Trust Attorney

It is an unfortunate fact that beneficiaries sometimes try to divert a decedent’s assets for their personal use, but the law provides means to protect the rights of people who have been unjustly denied their rightful property. If you need help protecting your interests in a loved one’s estate, it is smart to speak to an attorney about your options. The skilled attorneys of the Bay Area Family Law Center have ample experience handling complex probate and trust litigation matters, and if you hire them, they will advocate aggressively on your behalf. You can reach Bay Area Family Law Center at 925-258-2020 or via the form online to set up a consultation.

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