Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
by
Robert filed a petition, alleging that Dae violated a “no contest” clause in a family trust by filing a previous petition challenging Robert’s actions as trustee. Dae’s subsequently moved to strike Robert’s petition under the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute (Code Civ. Proc. 425.16.)The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. Robert’s No Contest Petition arose from protected petitioning activity under Code of Civil Procedure 425.16(e)(1); to defeat Dae’s motion, Robert was required to show a probability that he would prevail on that Petition. Robert made such a showing. Dae’s petition broadly challenged Robert’s conduct in setting up a financial structure that Robert claimed was designed to avoid estate taxes. If Robert’s claim is true, Dae’s petition would implicate the no-contest provision by seeking to “impair” trust provisions giving Robert the authority to manage trust assets. Dae also challenged his own removal as a beneficiary. Whether that more specific challenge amounts to a “contest” for purposes of the no-contest clause depends upon the trustors’ intent. Robert provided sufficient evidence of the trustors’ intent to allow a change of beneficiary to make a prima facie showing of probability of prevailing on Robert’s contention that Dae’s claims are a “contest.” The court expressed no opinion on the outcome of Robert’s petition. View "Dae v. Traver" on Justia Law

by
Brianna McKee Haggerty appealed a probate court order finding that a trust agreement was validly amended, thereby excluding her from distribution. Haggerty’s aunt, Jeane Bertsch, created the trust in 2015. The trust agreement included the following reservation of rights: “The right by an acknowledged instrument in writing to revoke or amend this Agreement or any trust hereunder.” Bertsch drafted the disputed amendment in 2018. She signed the amendment and sent it to her former attorney, but she did not have it notarized. After Bertsch’s death, Haggerty argued that the 2018 amendment was invalid because it was not “acknowledged” as described in the trust agreement. The beneficiaries under the 2018 amendment responded that the amendment was “acknowledged” within the meaning of the trust agreement and, in any event, the method for amendment described in the trust agreement was not exclusive. The probate court found that the amendment was valid. To this, the Court of Appeal concurred and affirmed the probate court. View "Haggerty v. Thornton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
The Court of Appeal concluded that the order denying the motion to vacate for extrinsic fraud is appealable in this case, and that misrepresentations of material fact in a conservator's account are treated as extrinsic fraud.The court held that a conservatee has no duty to investigate representations of fact in the conservator's account, unless the conservatee becomes aware of facts from which a reasonably prudent person would suspect wrongdoing. The court explained that, to set aside an order approving the conservator's account on the ground of extrinsic fraud, a conservatee is not required to establish that the misrepresentations of material fact in the account could not have been discovered prior to entry of the order approving the account. In this case, the probate court's ruling relied on legal authority that the court found unpersuasive because it placed a higher burden to investigate on the conservatee. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for the probate court to exercise its discretion based on an accurate understanding of the applicable law. View "Hudson v. Foster" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
The underlying judgment encompasses two probate petitions: the first petition was filed on April 26, 2011, by appellants, Everett Earle Pearce, Jr., and Flora Geraldene Crawford (collectively, Pearce Parties), and the second petition was filed on November 30, 2015, by Charles J. Briggs, Jr., and Margaret Briggs Arroyo (collectively, Briggs Parties), in their capacities as trustees of the Charles John Briggs Individual Living Trust Dated December 13, 1995. Each group of claimants filed a petition to establish their claims on the properties, and opposed the petition filed by the other group. The trial court ultimately entered a "Judgment After Trial," denying the Pearce Petition and granting the Briggs Petition. The Pearce Parties appealed.The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that Ruth L. Brigg's estate is not vested with a 43.75 percent interest in the Gibson Property. In this case, Ruth's will did not sever the joint tenancy in the Gibson Property under Civil Code section 683.2, Subdivision (a)(2). Nor was the joint tenancy in the Gibson Property severed by "other means," unrelated to Ruth's will, under Civil Code section 683.2, subdivision (a). The court also concluded that Ruth's estate is not vested with an undivided 25 percent interest in the Rosedale Property; the Pearce Parties' real property claims are time-barred; the trial court correctly concluded that Charles John Briggs, Sr's 1995 trust was the proper record owner of the relevant interests in the Gibson and Rosedale properties; and the remaining contentions raised by the Pearce Parties fail. View "Pearce v. Briggs" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
After her husband Benny Wall (decedent) died, petitioner Cindy Wall (wife) petitioned the probate court to determine that a home, titled in decedent’s name, was community property. Decedent’s children, objectors Timothy Wall and Tamara Nimmo (the children) unsuccessfully objected. On appeal, the children contended the trial court erred: (1) in determining the Family Code section 760 community property presumption prevailed over the Evidence Code section 662 form of title presumption; (2) in failing to consider tracing evidence rebutting the community property presumption; (3) in determining the Family Code section 721 undue influence presumption prevailed over the Evidence Code section 662 form of title presumption; and (4) by applying the undue influence presumption where there was no showing of unfair advantage. Though the Court of Appeal concluded the first two contentions had merit, it affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Estate of Wall" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff and her late husband, Grant Tinker, signed a premarital agreement (PMA) that in relevant part governed the ownership and testamentary disposition of their marital home. Respondents, Larry Ginsberg and his law firm, represented plaintiff in connection with the PMA and approved the PMA as to form on her behalf. Non-attorney Sidney Tessler, Tinker's longtime accountant and business manager, negotiated terms and approved the PMA as to form on Tinker's behalf. Plaintiff, the estate, and Tinker's children subsequently litigated plaintiff's and the children's claims, which were ultimately resolved in a global settlement.Plaintiff then filed suit against Ginsberg for legal malpractice in connection with the preparation and execution of the PMA, alleging that the PMA was unenforceable due to Ginsberg’s failure to ensure that Tinker signed a waiver of legal representation. The trial court granted Ginsberg's motion for summary judgment on the ground that Tinker ratified the PMA.The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that there is a triable issue of material fact as to the threshold issue of whether Tinker satisfied the requirements of Family Code section 1615 when he executed the PMA. The court explained that, if the factfinder determines that Tinker did not comply with section 1615, and the PMA was therefore not enforceable, the question becomes whether Tinker's subsequent amendments to his estate plan could ratify the PMA and thereby rectify the statutory violation. The court concluded that the trial court erred by concluding that they could and did. The court held that a premarital agreement that is not enforceable under section 1615 is void, not voidable, and accordingly cannot be ratified. Because none of the other grounds asserted in the summary judgment motion support the trial court's ruling, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings on plaintiff's malpractice claim. The court denied plaintiff's request for judicial notice as moot. View "Knapp v. Ginsberg" on Justia Law

by
This is appellant's third appeal concerning the conservatorship of the person and estate of his mother, Norma Farrant. The Court of Appeal affirmed the probate court's orders requiring him to pay $63,448.90 for misappropriation of Norma's assets, surcharging in the same amount appellant's share of interpled funds, and imposing sanctions of $121,000 for failing to timely file an accounting of his actions relating to Norma's estate.The court concluded that the probate court did not erroneously order accounting where there was a special relationship between appellant and Norma that warranted the order compelling appellant to account for the pension checks and rental income, and the probate court did not err because there was a fiduciary relationship between appellant and Norma. The court also concluded that appellant forfeited his claim that the probate court's order was based on affidavits and declarations where he did not object to the probate court's consideration of these items. Finally, the court concluded that the probate court properly denied appellant's request for an evidentiary hearing; appellant has not shown prejudice; and appellant's new claims lack merit. View "Friend v. Farrant" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
A.B., a 40-year-old male diagnosed to suffer from severe schizophrenia, has been subject to conservatorships on and off for 20 years. A.B. has no real property or significant assets; his only income is $973.40 in monthly social security benefits. The public guardian was most recently appointed as A.B.’s conservator in 2016 and reappointed annually until the dismissal of the conservatorship in 2019. In August 2017, the public guardian was awarded $1,025 and county counsel was awarded $365 in compensation for services rendered 2016-2017. In 2018, the court entered an order for compensation for the public guardian and county counsel in the same amounts covering 2017-2018. The public guardian sought compensation for services rendered 2018-2019, $1,569.79 for its services, and $365 for county counsel.The court found that the request for compensation was just, reasonable, and necessary to sustain the support and maintenance of the conservatee, and approved the petition, again ordering the public guardian to defer collection of payment if it determined that collection would impose a financial hardship on the conservatee. The court of appeal reversed. While the court had sufficient information before it to enable consideration of the factors enumerated in Probate Code section 2942(b), the court failed to do so and improperly delegated responsibility to the public guardian to defer collection. View "Conservatorship of A.B." on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of plaintiff's motion to further amend the judgment entered against Raleigh Souther and Get Flipped, Inc. by adding defendant as a judgment debtor.The court concluded that adding defendant as a judgment debtor is neither unnecessary nor unfair; the order was not barred by claim or issue preclusion; and the record adequately supports the trial court's order. In this case, the Estate presented evidence that Moofly Productions was inadequately capitalized since all of its assets were being controlled by defendant and, as a corollary, that the entity and defendant had commingled funds. Furthermore, other facts considered in alter ego cases, an arguable lack of adherence to corporate formalities and business registration laws, also supported the trial court's determination. Most importantly, as established by the fraudulent conveyance judgment when considered together with the additional information concerning defendant's control of the Moofly Productions' bank accounts, failing to formally recognize defendant as a judgment debtor would produce an inequitable result, effectively preventing the Estate from enforcing the judgment it had obtained against Get Flipped, precisely the corrupt goal defendant sought to achieve. The court noted that the issue of control is not significant under the circumstances here. In any event, a judgment debtor may be added if the equities overwhelmingly favor the amendment and it is necessary to prevent an injustice, even if all the formal elements generally necessary to establish alter ego liability are not present. Finally, the court concluded that the amendment is not barred by laches. View "Corrales Favila v. Pasquarella" on Justia Law

by
In 2007, plaintiffs-respondents Jason Rubin and Cira Ross, as cotrustees of the Cira Ross Qualified Domestic Trust (judgment creditors) obtained a civil judgment against defendant-appellant David Ross (judgment debtor). In 2009, Ross filed for voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In April 2019, following an order denying judgment debtor a discharge in bankruptcy, judgment creditors filed for renewal of their judgment pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure sections 683.120 and 683.130. Ross moved to vacate the judgment on the ground that judgment creditors failed to seek renewal within the 10-year time period proscribed in Code of Civil Procedure section 683.130. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that judgment creditor’s renewal was timely because title 11 United States Code section 108(c) provided for an extension of time within which to seek renewal. Ross appealed, arguing that judgment creditors were not precluded from seeking renewal by his bankruptcy proceeding and, therefore, section 108(c) 2 did not apply to provide an extension of time to seek renewal of their judgment. The Court of Appeal agreed that judgment creditors were not barred from seeking statutory renewal of their judgment during the pendency of judgment debtor’s bankruptcy proceeding, but concluded that the extension provided for in section 108(c) applied regardless. Thus, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order. View "Rubin v. Ross" on Justia Law