Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
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

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's award of attorney fees to the Trust after the Trust successfully enforced the terms of a conservation easement. In this case, defendants owned land that is the subject of a conservation easement granted by previous owners in favor of the Trust and they intentionally violated the easement.The court rejected defendants' argument that, because the Trust's insurance policy covered its fees up to $500,000, the trial court was required to deduct that amount from the lodestar. Rather, the court concluded that the trial court was not required to reduce defendants' liability for attorney fees simply because the Trust had the foresight to purchase insurance. In any event, the court noted that the Trust will not receive a double recovery because, under the insurance policy, it must reimburse the insurer from any damage award. The court also rejected defendants' other challenges, concluding that the number of hours was not excessive; the lodestar was not disproportionate to the public benefit; and the trial court did not abuse its discretion by adding a fee enhancement. View "The Sonoma Land Trust v. Thompson" on Justia Law

by
Appellant William Pullen appealed the family court’s denial of his Family Code section 2030 motion to compel respondent Windham Bremer, the trustee of the Elizabeth Anne Wendt Trust, to pay his attorney fees stemming from his successful motion to join the trustee as a third party to the dissolution action involving Pullen and his ex-wife Elizabeth Anne Wendt. Pullen contended the family court’s ruling was an abuse of discretion as it was based on legal error, and that it effectively precluded him from further litigating the matter. Bremer counters that under California law, a trustee could not be compelled to disburse money absent a showing of bad faith. He argued that Pullen’s claim was subject to Probate Code restrictions on claims against spendthrift trusts. He also claims that payment was barred under Indiana and Illinois law, and that appellant’s underlying claim was specious. The California Court of Appeal surmised the question presented involved the administration of the trust rather than interpreting its terms, Indiana law might apply, and Illinois law was inapplicable. "However, choice of law is immaterial as both Indiana and California follow the modern interpretation regarding the liability of trusts and trustees to third parties. This modern approach allows third parties to obtain relief from the trust for matters arising out of the trust’s administration, and is not limited by spendthrift provisions." The Court found section 2030 provided for the award of attorney fees against parties other than spouses, like the trustee. Since the award of attorney fees stemmed from the administration of the trust and did not involve a claim against the beneficiary, payment from a spendthrift trust was not contingent on the bad faith of the trustee. It was an abuse of discretion for the family court to make the award of fees contingent on such a showing and its judgment was reversed and remanded for additional proceedings. View "Marriage of Wendt and Pullen" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff John Dunlap was the executor of the New York estate (Estate) of Josephine Mayer, who passed away in 2016. Josephine was the lifetime beneficiary of a testamentary trust (Marital Trust) established by Josephine’s husband, Erwin Mayer. The Estate petitioned the trustee of the Marital Trust, defendant Maria Mayer, for an accounting. Maria objected to the petition, alleging that she was never a trustee of the Marital Trust and that she never had possession or control of the assets of the trust. The court dismissed the petition at a case management conference, without an evidentiary hearing to resolve the contested facts. The Court of Appeal concluded the court abused its discretion in doing so, and therefore reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dunlap v. Mayer" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the probate court's approval of a settlement that excluded the nonparticipating parties as beneficiaries. The court concluded that the probate court has the power to order the parties into mediation, which the probate court did so here. In this case, the Pacific parties received notice of the mediation, but chose not to participate. The court explained that had the Pacific parties appeared at the initial probate hearing, for which they received notice, they would have had the opportunity to object to mediation. Instead, the Pacific parties waited until after the mediation, for which they also received notice, in addition to notices of continuances, to finally object to the result.The court rejected the Pacific parties' contention that the trustee failed in his duty to deal impartially with all beneficiaries, concluding that all interested parties received notification of the mediation, had an opportunity to participate, and the Pacific parties' failure to participate was not the fault of the trustee. The court also rejected the Pacific parties contentions that the trustee breached fiduciary duties for personal profit, and that the trustee failed to keep them reasonably informed about the mediation and his intent to execute the settlement agreement. Furthermore, the court concluded that there was no extrinsic fraud. View "Breslin v. Breslin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
Kay died in 2016 at age 90. In a trust instrument she executed months earlier, she named St. Jude Children’s Hospital the sole beneficiary of her estate, which was worth approximately $2 million. She disinherited her surviving son and her two granddaughters, who filed a petition contesting the validity of the trust instrument on the ground that Kay had a mental disorder with symptoms including delusions or hallucinations that allegedly caused Kay to devise her property in a way she would not otherwise have done. (Probate Code 6100.5(a)(2)).The court found that the granddaughters failed to carry their burden of proving that Kay was suffering from a delusion at the time she executed the trust. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the trial court erred in wrongly selecting a single false belief Kay had about her granddaughters—i.e., that they “wanted her out of the way in order to get her money”—and then wrongly determining it was not a delusion, while the court should have found that Kay’s multiple false beliefs about her granddaughters all constituted delusions negating Kay’s testamentary capacity. There was substantial evidence that Kay did not have “a mental health disorder” at the time she executed the trust. View "Eyford v. Nord" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's grant of respondents' request for attorney fees under Probate Code section 2640.1, holding that attorney fees are not available where, as here, the matter is resolved without a conservator's appointment. In this case, respondents filed a conservatorship proceeding on their mother's behalf and the case settled before a conservator was appointed. Therefore, the trial court erred in granting respondents' request. View "Brokken v. Brokken" on Justia Law

by
Lucille and Lewis Keading created a trust for the benefit of their children, Kenton and Hilja. During their lifetimes, they provided financial assistance to Kenton but not to Hilja. Kenton had been imprisoned for nine years. In 2015, Hilja returned to her parents’ home to care for them, clean their house, and organize their finances. Lewis died a few months after Lucille. Days after Lewis died, Kenton recorded a deed, transferring the property from the trust to him and his father as joint tenants. He sold Lewis’s car and kept the proceeds.After discovering that Kenton had represented himself as their father’s attorney-in-fact and had executed the deed, Hilja filed suit. A court-appointed trustee joined Hilja’s suit. The court found the transfer invalid, set aside the deed, and vested title to the property with the trustee. Meanwhile, Kenton sued Hilja for libel. The court granted Hilja’s anti-SLAPP motion, concluded Kenton was liable for elder abuse and that the property transfers resulted from elder abuse.The court of appeal affirmed the judgment that found Kenton liable for elder financial abuse through undue influence and ordered him to pay $1.5 million in damages and upheld a prejudgment right to attach order. Probate Code section 859 authorizes an award of double damages for the commission of elder financial abuse without a separate finding of bad faith. The court also upheld the dismissal of Kenton’s libel action. View "Keading v. Keading" on Justia Law

by
Amira Manderson-Saleh was the daughter of an oncology nurse (Mother) who worked at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) for about 12 years until she retired shortly before her death. Mother earned a pension under rules permitting the employee to designate a beneficiary to receive specified monthly pension benefits upon the employee’s death. When Manderson-Saleh claimed her rights as the designated beneficiary shortly after Mother’s death, The Regents of the University of California (Regents) denied her claim, finding Mother did not properly identify Manderson-Saleh as the contingent beneficiary before her death. Thus, none of the earned pension benefits were paid. Manderson-Saleh filed a complaint against the Regents, alleging breach of contract. Alternatively, she sought a writ of mandate to overturn the Regents’ decision. The Regents demurred only to the contract claim, and the court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. Proceedings on the mandate petition, the court found Manderson-Saleh was not entitled to relief because the Regents had the right to strictly apply its rule that contingent-annuitant pension benefits were conditioned on the Regents receiving a signed beneficiary-election form before the employee’s death, and the Regents received this form one week after Mother’s death. The court rejected Manderson-Saleh’s different interpretation of the rule and her arguments this rule was satisfied by the Regents receiving Mother’s election worksheet before her death. The court entered a final judgment sustaining the demurrer and denying the mandate petition. Manderson-Saleh challenged both rulings. Finding the trial court properly sustained the demurrer, the Court of Appeal affirmed in part. However, the trial court erred in denying the mandate petition. "The undisputed evidence establishes Mother substantially complied with the Regents’ pension rules and the Regents abused its discretion in failing to consider and apply the substantial compliance doctrine in evaluating Manderson-Saleh’s claim." The matter was remanded with directions for the trial court to grant mandamus relief, and to issue a a writ ordering the Regents to grant Manderson-Saleh's contingent-annuitant pension claim. View "Manderson-Saleh v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

by
A party receiving notice who fails to participate in court-ordered mediation is bound by the result. Plaintiff, the trustee of decedent's trust, petitioned the probate court to determine the trust beneficiaries. After the probate court ordered the matter to mediation, the potential beneficiaries received notice of the mediation, but some did not participate. The participating parties subsequently reached a settlement that excluded the nonparticipating parties as beneficiaries, and the probate court approved the settlement. In this appeal, the nonparticipating parties challenged the probate court's approval of the settlement.The Court of Appeal held that, by failing to participate in the mediation, the Pacific parties waived their right to an evidentiary hearing. Furthermore, the Pacific parties were not entitled to a determination of factual issues, such as the decedent's intent, and cannot raise such issues for the first time on appeal. The court rejected the Pacific parties' contention that the trustee failed in his duty to deal impartially with all beneficiaries where the Pacific parties' failure to participate was not the fault of the trustee. The court also rejected the Pacific parties' contention that the trustee breached fiduciary duties and failed to keep them reasonably informed. Finally, the court concluded that there was no extrinsic fraud, and that the probate court should decide the issue of attorney fees. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment order. View "Breslin v. Breslin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates