Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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Plaintiff appealed the probate court's order striking her petition to enforce a no contest clause in a trust under the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16, and denying her motion to recover attorney fees. The Court of Appeal agreed with the probate court, and with a recent decision by Division Five of this district, that the anti-SLAPP statute applies to a petition such as plaintiff's seeking to enforce a no contest clause. However, the court held that plaintiff adequately demonstrated a likelihood of success under the second step of the anti-SLAPP procedure. In this case, defendant's judicial defense of the 2007 Amendment to the Trust that she procured through undue influence met the Trust's definition of a contest that triggered the no contest clause. Furthermore, under sections 21310 and 21311, that clause was enforceable against defendant. The court also held that plaintiff provided sufficient evidence that defendant lacked probable cause to defend the 2007 Amendment. The court held that the findings of the probate court concerning defendant's undue influence, which this court affirmed, provided a sufficient basis to conclude that plaintiff has shown a probability of success on her No Contest Petition. Finally, the court held that plaintiff had the contractual right to seek reimbursement of her attorney fees incurred in resisting defendant's appeal of the probate court's ruling invalidating the 2007 Amendment. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Key v. Tyler" on Justia Law

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This case presented two issues for the Court of Appeals' review: (1) whether the nonmarital biological child of an absentee father who never openly held her out as his own have standing under Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60 to sue for his wrongful death if she failed to obtain a court order declaring paternity during his lifetime?; and (2) if she did not have standing, did section 377.60 violate the state or federal equal protection clauses? Upon the specific facts of this case, the Court concluded the child did not have standing, and there was no equal protection violation. "We cannot imagine the Legislature intended to confer wrongful death standing on a child who had no relationship whatsoever with the decedent to the exclusion of the decedent’s other family members with whom he did have a relationship." View "Stennett v. Miller" on Justia Law

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Petitioner David Dudek appealed after the trial court sustained the demurrer of respondents Anne Kebisek Dudek, Tiffany Guzman, Jeanette Kebisek, Mary Kebisek, Guillermo Andrade, Maria Sanchez, Ora Day, Tonya Courtney, and Michael Quinn to David's petition to recover money distributed to the respondents in accordance with the beneficiary designation of Genworth Life Insurance Policy #5804946 (the Policy), which covered the life of J.D. Dudek (J.D.), Petitioner's brother. According to David, in late 2009, J.D. created and executed the J.D. Dudek Life Insurance Trust, naming David as the trustee. David asserted the Policy was listed as an asset of the Trust, to be held and administered in accordance with the Trust's terms. According to the Petition, J.D. prepared and submitted to the life insurance company the forms required by that company to change the ownership and beneficiary designations on the Policy in order to establish David, as trustee, as the sole owner and named beneficiary of the Policy. David was unaware that not long after J.D. submitted the forms, the insurance company rejected the ownership and beneficiary designation forms because J.D. had altered some of his entries without initialing the changes. David was also unaware that J.D. had failed to file corrected forms with the life insurance company after he was notified of the insurance company's rejection of his submitted forms. After J.D. died, David produced the Trust to the life insurance company and sought to obtain the proceeds of the policy. However, the life insurance company distributed the proceeds of the policy to the beneficiaries that it had on file, pursuant to the beneficiary designations that J.D. submitted prior to the alleged change. David subsequently sought an order directing the respondents to transfer the proceeds of the Policy to him as the trustee of the Trust. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court, finding that if David could establish the facts alleged in the Petition, then it would be clear that J.D. created an irrevocable trust, and properly funded it, when he delivered to David the transferring document. "If the Trust was created, then David's entitlement to the proceeds of the life insurance policy that was an asset of the Trust would be established, and he would be able to seek the court's assistance in having those proceeds conveyed to him in his capacity as trustee. The trial court therefore should not have sustained the respondents' demurrer to David's Petition." View "Dudek v. Dudek" on Justia Law

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Lieselotte Herzog (the Decedent) died intestate on October 17, 2013. In April 2014, the probate court issued letters of administration appointing Winnfred Herzog (Nephew) as the administrator of the estate. Kemp & Associates, Inc. (Kemp), a firm specializing in locating heirs, held a power of attorney for Maurene Schraff Nadj (Half Sister). In July 2016, Kemp petitioned the probate court for a determination that Half Sister was the Decedent’s sole heir. The probate court denied Kemp’s petition with prejudice for insufficient evidence. Kemp appealed, arguing the probate court erred: (1) by bifurcating the issue of whether Half Sister was the Decedent’s heir; (2) by concluding Kemp did not meet its burden of proof; and (3) by ruling Kemp’s evidence was inadmissible. In addition, Kemp contended Nephew lacked standing to oppose Kemp’s petition. Finding no reversible errors, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Estate of Herzog" on Justia Law

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The parents established the trust in 1974 when all of the siblings were minors. Howard predeceased Alice, leaving her as the sole settlor and trustee. In 2003, Alice amended the trust to name all six children, as successor co-trustees, with the power to act by majority vote. Alice died in 2015; the trust became irrevocable. Five siblings, (Appellants) agreed to maintain the assets in trust, hoping they would increase in value for the next generation. The sixth sibling asked for distribution of her share of the trust in cash. The trial court interpreted the trust to require liquidation and distribution of the trust assets upon the death of the last surviving parent, based primarily on a provision requiring distribution to any beneficiary when that beneficiary turned 30 years old. All of the siblings were at least 30 years old. The court of appeal agreed that the trust's unambiguous language requires distribution and termination of the trust, but the trial court erred when it ordered the liquidation of the trust assets to accomplish that purpose, rather than deferring to the discretion of the trustees to distribute the trust. The orders removing the parties as trustees and requiring the trust to pay all attorney fees and costs flowed from that error. View "Trolan v. Trolan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment and held that a "Trust Transfer Deed," signed by husband, granting certain real property to his wife, did not met Family Code section 852(a)'s express declaration requirement. The court held that without an express statement specifying what interest in the property was granted to wife, the reference to a "Trust Transfer" left the document's purpose ambiguous and thus rendered the purported transmutation invalid under section 852(a). The court held that the deed was fairly susceptible of at least two interpretations―the one wife proffered, whereby husband granted all of his interest in the property to her, thereby transmuting the residence into her separate property, and the one husband proffered, whereby he granted only an interest in trust to wife for the couple's estate planning purposes. View "Begian v. Sarajian" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment ordering Lu Tuan Nguyen to return funds to the Conservatorship of the Person and Estate of Joseph Ribal. On remand, the trial court awarded attorney fees incurred in enforcing the underlying judgment to Linda Rogers, the conservator, of $43,507.50. Nguyen argued on appeal of that order that he satisfied the underlying judgment, and after reviewing the record, the Court of Appeal agreed. Because Code of Civil Procedure section 685.080 (a), required such motions to be made before the judgment is satisfied, the Court agreed with Nguyen that the motion was untimely. Therefore, the order granting Rogers $43,507.50 in attorney fees was reversed. View "Conservatorship of Ribal" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's award of attorney fees and costs in this dispute over the management and the distribution of monetary assets of a family trust. The court held that the trial court properly applied the substantial benefit theory, an offshoot of the common fund doctrine, in making its award of fees from trust assets. In this case, substantial evidence supported the finding that the litigation substantially benefited all beneficiaries and that litigation preserved trust assets when the accounts were frozen. The court explained that the litigation preserved a common fund for the benefit of the non-participating beneficiaries. View "Smith v. Szeyller" on Justia Law

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Stockird's handwritten will transferred “all my property and everything I may be entitled to inherit” to her life partner, Aguirre, and an aunt-by-marriage, Ambrose. The will did not include alternative provisions for disposition if either gift lapsed. Ambrose died before Stockird. After Stockird died, Aguirre sought a declaration that he is entitled to Stockird’s entire estate as the sole surviving residuary beneficiary under Probate Code 21111(b). Stockird’s halfbrother, Ramsden, argued the lapsed gift to Ambrose must pass to Stockird’s estate under section 21111(a)(3) and that as Stockird’s only surviving heir, he is entitled to Ambrose’s share under the laws of intestacy. The probate court agreed with Ramsden. The court of appeal reversed, finding that the trial court misinterpreted section 21111(b). The definition of “transferee” as kindred in section 21110(c) applies to section 21110, but the more general definition of “transferee,” as a “beneficiary, donee, or other recipient of an interest transferred by an instrument,” applies in section 21111(b). Given the clear intent of the Legislature to abolish the “no residue of a residue” rule and avoid intestacy, the 35 percent lapsed gift does not go to Stockird’s estate under section 21111(a)(3), but, subject to determination of Ambrose's descendants' reformation petition, must pass to Aguirre under section 21111(b). View "Estate of Stockird" on Justia Law

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Amanda Meleski was injured when Albert Hotlen ran a red light and collided with her vehicle. Unfortunately, Hotlen was deceased at the time of the lawsuit, and he had no estate from which she could recover. However, Hotlen had purchased a $100,000 insurance policy from Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate) covering the accident. Meleski brought her action pursuant to Probate Code sections 550 through 555, which allowed her to serve her complaint on Allstate and recover damages from the Allstate policy, but limited her recovery of damages to the policy limits. Meleski attempted to settle the matter before going to trial by making an offer pursuant to section 998 for $99,999. The offer was not accepted, and at trial a jury awarded her $180,613.86. Because the offer was rejected and Meleski was awarded judgment in excess of her offer to compromise, she expected to recover her costs of suit, the postoffer costs of the services of expert witnesses, and other litigation costs. Meleski argued on appeal that she should have been able to recover costs in excess of the policy limits from Allstate, since it was Allstate that had refused to accept a reasonable settlement offer prior to trial. The trial court disagreed, and Meleski filed this appeal, arguing Allstate was a party within the meaning of section 998 for purposes of recovering costs, and that such costs were recoverable from the insurer despite the limitation on the recovery of “damages” found in Probate Code sections 550 through 555. The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed judgment: "Even though the decedent’s estate is the named defendant in actions under Probate Code sections 550 through 555, this is a legal fiction. The insurance company accepts service of process, hires and pays for counsel to defend the action, makes all decisions regarding settlement of the litigation, is responsible for paying the judgment in favor of the plaintiff if such judgment is rendered, and makes the decision whether or not to appeal an adverse judgment. There is no actual person or entity other than the insurance company to do any of this. This is a reality we will not ignore. Moreover, we find it manifestly unfair that section 998 could be employed by Allstate to recover costs from the plaintiff (which costs it would have no obligation to pay to the estate), but Allstate would have no corresponding responsibility to pay costs merely because it is not a named party." View "Meleski v. Estate of Hotlen" on Justia Law