Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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Plaintiff unsuccessfully sued Bartsch’s estate, claiming to be Bartsch’s son, unintentionally omitted from his father’s will. The court of appeal upheld a finding that Bartsch was aware of plaintiff’s existence when he executed his will, having reluctantly made court-ordered child support payments to plaintiff’s mother for many years. Plaintiff separately sued the attorney who represented the executor and the executor, alleging intentional fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, and fraudulent concealment, because the defendants stated under penalty of perjury that decedent had no children when they filed the probate petition, did not serve notice of their petition on plaintiff, and “willfully failed to inform the Court [that plaintiff was Bartsch’s son], depriving plaintiff of the opportunity to assert a claim. He also alleged that the way defendants stated the petition’s allegations made him believe that decedent “was not aware that he had a son or had forgotten it,” leading him to incur significant legal fees. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Plaintiff could not establish any damages because it was established that he had no interest in Bartsch’s estate. His claims are based entirely on the defendants' representations in connection with the probate proceeding and are, therefore, barred by the litigation privilege, Civil Code 47(b). View "Herterich v. Peltner" on Justia Law

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Appellant James Bulen (James) and respondents (the Gaynor beneficiaries) were extended family members who were cobeneficiaries of a trust (Trust) created by their grandfather or great-grandfather (Grandfather). Years after Grandfather's death, these individuals and others engaged in contentious disputes over the management and control of the Trust. After the probate court resolved these disputes, the Gaynor beneficiaries filed a surcharge petition against the cotrustees, and later added James as a respondent based on his alleged de facto trustee status. The Gaynor beneficiaries alleged that James and the cotrustees wrongfully withdrew trust assets and then used these assets to file and defend probate petitions in attempting to persuade the probate court to adopt their management plan. The Gaynor beneficiaries sought reimbursement of all funds improperly withdrawn from the Trust. Focusing on the paragraphs of the surcharge petition related to the prior probate litigation, James moved to strike the claims against him under California's anti-SLAPP statute. The probate court found the claims were not governed by the anti-SLAPP statute and denied the motion. James appeals. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Gaynor v. Bulen" on Justia Law

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Probate Code section 11704 requires an executor to obtain court permission before taking sides in a proceeding to determine who is entitled to a distribution of estate assets. Section 11704 does not mandate neutrality or prohibit an executor from advocating in favor of one beneficiary over another. Rather, it entrusts probate courts with policing whether and to what extent participation in probate proceedings should be permitted in light of the dangers of self-interested involvement and other factors relevant to good cause. In this case, the probate court properly discharged this statutory responsibility in permitting the executor to oppose the omitted spouse petition. The court affirmed the probate court's order granting the executor's petition to oppose the petition filed by plaintiff. View "Estate of Kerkorian" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Husband Patrick Steiner was an active duty military service member and had a group life insurance policy issued under the Servicemen's Group Life Insurance Act of 1965 (the SGLIA). As part of a status-only dissolution judgment, Husband and Alicja Soczewko Steiner (Wife), stipulated to an order requiring Husband to maintain Wife as the beneficiary of all of Husband's current active duty survivor and/or death benefits pending further court order. Notwithstanding the stipulated order, Husband changed the beneficiary of his life insurance policy to Husband's sister, Mary Furman, who received the policy proceeds upon Husband's death. The court subsequently found applicable federal law preempted the stipulated order and Furman was entitled to the policy proceeds. Wife appealed, contending federal law did not preempt the stipulated order or, alternatively, the fraud exception to federal preemption applies. The Court of Appeal concluded to the contrary on both points and affirmed the order. View "Marriage of Steiner" on Justia Law

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William and Daniel, the children of Victor (Decedent), are the beneficiaries of Decedent's estate. In 2010, the probate court appointed William as the personal representative of the Estate. In 2014, Daniel filed a petition alleging that William had not filed any reports on the status of the administration of the Estate, that multiple notices of default had been recorded against real property owned by the Estate, that William had not rented out the property or otherwise made it productive, and Daniel did not know the status of the Estate's remaining assets. After a trial, in April 2015, the court orally announced its decision to remove William as personal representative and to appoint Ocaña in his place. Its final decision issued in April 2016. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the order was not appealable. The trial court expressly reserved jurisdiction to issue a further statement of its reasons; the 2015 order was therefore not final. The Probate Code provides for an appeal from an order removing a fiduciary, so the appeal should not be dismissed on the ground that the order appears in a statement of decision rather than a separate order or judgment. The court upheld the factual findings regarding William’s neglect of the estate. View "Estate of Reed" on Justia Law

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The trust that was intended to establish a charitable foundation. When Shine became trustee, its value was about $40 million. The conservator of the incompetent trustor sought an accounting, which revealed a significant loss in value and that Shine had not funded the foundation. The Attorney General sought Shine’s removal and surcharge based on his mismanagement, Gov. Code 12598. An interim substitute trustee was appointed. Shine successfully sought advanced fees from the trust for defense of the petition, subject to repayment if he was ultimately found not entitled to indemnification. The court of appeal reversed, holding that the probate court applied an incorrect legal standard in focusing on the “inequity of forcing the former trustees to fund their own defense against the unlimited resources of the Attorney General’s office” but did not expressly weigh the balance of relative harms to Shine, the People, and the charitable beneficiaries of the Trust. A mere imbalance in resources is not, alone, a proper equitable consideration supporting an award of interim fees; the court must consider whether Shine will be unduly prejudiced by having to bear his own attorney fees until resolution of the petition and whether the charitable beneficiaries would be unduly prejudiced if the fees were advanced and not repaid. View "Harris & Becerra v. Shine" on Justia Law

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Tracy J. Swearingen appealed from an order denying her petition to enforce a no contest clause and disinherit Jose Francisco Aviles as a trust beneficiary of the Margaret B. Chappell (Peggy) Living Trust. The Court of Appeal affirmed the order denying the petition to disinherit Aviles, and dismissed the purported appeal from the order removing Swearingen as trustee pending trial because it was not a final appealable order. The court held that the no contest clause in the Second Amendment to the will, which was to be strictly construed, did not trump Probate Code section 21310, subdivision (e)(2). Therefore, the Third Amendment to the will did not incorporate by reference the no contest clause in the Second Amendment. In this case, the court could not say that Peggy unequivocally expressed her intent to apply the no contest clause to petitions contesting trust amendments that were the product of fraud or undue influence. View "Aviles v. Swearingen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's holding that, because there was no clear and conclusive evidence of a contrary intent, joint bank accounts passed as a matter of law to petitioner upon her mother's death. The court held that the trial court's finding was supported by substantial evidence where, among other things, mother opened the accounts while daughter assisted with various business affairs, mother indicated to daughter that the money in the two accounts was for daughter's use and daughter had complete access to the accounts; and Wells Fargo confirmed that both mother and daughter had withdrawal rights on the accounts. View "Estate of O'Connor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The petition underlying this appeal challenged a trial court order summarily adjudicating a cause of action under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (the Act), a cause of action for fraud by concealment, and another for medical battery, while allowing other claims, including one for medical negligence, to proceed to trial. Petitioner Maxine Stewart was the representative of Anthony Carter, a man who died after admission to a hospital owned by real parties in interest, St. Joseph’s Health (et al.). She alleged the hospital “denied and withheld from Mr. Carter the right to refuse an unnecessary surgery, denied and withheld from Mr. Carter the right to be involved in secret hospital meetings to invalidate his designated consent, and denied and withheld from Mr. Carter his right to a second opinion prior to proceeding with an unwarranted surgery that resulted in a hypoxic injury, brain damage, cardiac arrest and his untimely death.” Having concluded the petition might have merit, the Court of Appeal stayed the action in the trial court and requested an informal response. Having received and read the “return by verified answer” that was filed by real parties in interest, the Court then set an order to show cause and requested further briefing on a specific issue. Real parties in interest decided to stand on their informal response in lieu of filing another brief, and Stewart declined to file a traverse. After review, the Court then granted the petition: in the published portion of this opinion, the Court discussed the cause of action for elder abuse to explain how, in its view, a substantial impairment of this right can constitute actionable “neglect” of an elder within the meaning of both the little-invoked catchall definition contained in Welfare and Institutions Code section 15610.57(a)(1), and two of the types of neglect set forth in section 15610.57(a)(2). View "Stewart v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The plain language of the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, applies to a petition to enforce a no contest clause. In this case, a beneficiary filed a petition for instructions as to whether the no contest clause of his mother's trust had been violated after his sister sought to reform the trust to eliminate his interest. The sister, as trustee, filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the petition. The trial court granted the motion to strike and awarded attorney fees to the sister. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the anti-SLAPP motion should have been denied because the beneficiary established a reasonable probability of prevailing on the merits. Therefore, the order granting attorney fees was also reversed. View "Urick v. Urick" on Justia Law