Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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Defendant was convicted of theft from an elder or dependent adult in 2010 (the criminal action). After the victim died before the end of the criminal action, plaintiff, the conservator and the co-administrator, filed two actions against defendant under Probate Code section 850, seeking civil damages (the probate action) and another action that resulted in a restitution award (restitution judgment). The Court of Appeal held that, pursuant to the terms of a stipulation concerning the amount of restitution in the criminal action, defendant's prejudgment restitution payments should have been credited against principal rather than interest. The court held, however, that even after adjusting the remaining principal on the restitution judgment to account for prejudgment payments, defendant still owed a substantial sum. Therefore, the court remanded for recalculation of the amount remaining due on the restitution judgment. The court rejected defendant's remaining arguments. The court affirmed the judgment in the probate action. View "Kerley v. Weber" on Justia Law

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The Obata sisters, died intestate in 2013, having never married and with no descendants. Letters of administration of the estates were issued in the Alameda County Superior Court. A dispute arose regarding the line of succession that centered on the decedents’ father, Tomejiro and the impact of his “yōshi-engumi” by Minejiro and Kiku Obata in 1911. Appellants are the descendants of Tomejiro’s biological parents, the Nakanos. The court found in favor of the Obata family members. The court concluded that California recognizes Tomejiro’s yōshi-engumi as a legal adoption and that under the Probate Code, “The adoption of Tomejiro Obata by Minejiro Obata and Kiku Obata severed the relationship of parent and child between Tomejiro Obata and his natural parents.” The court of appeal affirmed, citing Probate Code sections 6450-6451. While the primary purpose of Tomejiro’s adoption may have been to create an heir, the role of an heir in Japanese society at that time was considerably more expansive than under California law, involving not just inheritance rights, but financial and moral obligations to care for relatives and honor the family’s ancestors. Whether Tomejiro’s adoption would have terminated his relationship with his biological parents under Japanese law now or in 1911 is immaterial. View "Estate of Obata" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's dismissal of a petition under Probate Code section 17200 to set aside certain amendments and declare effective the 16th amendment to the Maynord 1986 Family Trust. The court held that appellant was a former beneficiary that lacked standing to petition for relief under section 17200, where the plain language of section 17200 demonstrates that only beneficiaries and trustees of the current trust version have standing to petition for review of the internal affairs of that trust. The court also held that the conclusion in Drake v. Pinkham (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 400, that a living but incompetent settlor was not a bar to a beneficiary's lawsuit did not demonstrate that a former beneficiary challenging the latest version of a trust was entitled to proceed because of their status in the last allegedly valid former trust document. View "Barefoot v. Jennings" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Appellants Brian O'Connor and Astrid O'Connor Bassett appealed from orders: (1) declaring decedent John O'Connor's power of appointment exercised in his will complied with the requirements of Probate Code1 section 632; and (2) for probate of his will. The Court of Appeal concluded the language of decedent's will contained enough detail to discern his conscious exercise of the particular power of appointment granted to him, and thus complied with the requirements of both the granting instrument and section 632 that he make a specific reference to the power of appointment. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the orders. View "Estate of O'Connor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Appellants, adult children of Decedent, who died in 2010 of mesothelioma allegedly caused by exposure to asbestos in brakes he purchased from Pep Boys, an automotive parts retailer, brought claims for wrongful death, strict liability, and negligence. The trial court rejected appellants’ wrongful death claims as untimely and a claim for punitive damages. The court awarded $213,052 as economic damages but found that amount was entirely offset by settlements with other parties. The court of appeal reversed in part, agreeing that the trial court erred in failing to award damages for the costs of providing home health services to Decedent and his wife and erred in awarding Pep Boys expert fees under section 998. The court rejected claims that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing Pep Boys to amend its answer to correct a previously-asserted statute of limitations defense; erred in granting Pep Boys’ motion for judgment under section 631.8; and erred in applying offsets to the award of economic damages based on prior settlements without allocating between estate claims and wrongful death claims. Damages recoverable in a survival action brought by a decedent’s personal representative or successor in interest are limited to damages that the decedent incurred before death and do not include “ ‘lost years’ damages” that would have been incurred had the decedent survived. View "Williams v. The Pep Boys Manny Moe & Jack of California" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant Christine Davidson was the court-appointed conservator of the person and estate of Lorraine Presha from 2009 to 2015. Presha died in March 2015. In June 2015, Davidson filed a combined petition for: (1) approval of the sixth and final accounting, and (2) conservator’s fees. Davidson sought conservator’s fees in the amount of $12,621.60. The probate court ordered conservator’s fees in the amount of $7,000. Davidson contended on appeal that the trial court erred by: (1) examining Davidson’s billing practices; (2) utilizing its finding that Davidson’s billing practices were improper when ruling upon Davidson’s petition for compensation; (3) vitiating the finality of prior cases for which Davidson served as the conservator; and (4) not utilizing the enumerated factors when ruling on her petition for compensation. Finding no abuse of discretion or reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. View "Conservatorship of Presha" on Justia Law

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After trial, the probate court approved, subject to a $93,036.75 surcharge, the first and final account and report of trustee (First Report), filed by Melodie Scott, trustee of The A’Yana McDonald Special Needs Trust (the trust). The Beneficiary, through court-appointed counsel, objected to the First Report and to the petition for settlement and termination of the trust, alleging the trustee failed to file court-mandated reports, had no supporting records for fees paid to the trustee, and that the money was not spent solely for her benefit. Beneficiary requested that Trustee be surcharged $259,309.38 for missing interest payments and for improper disbursements. The court found the beneficiary proved the trustee expended various funds without sufficient care or justification, and without reference to the text or purpose of the trust; "and once that money is gone, of course legal damages result.” The trustee raised three issues on appeal: (1) the probate court did not apply the correct legal standard (without specifying what was incorrect); (2) the trustee asserted substantial evidence does not support the finding of breach; and (3) the trustee contended the probate court erred by denying compensation for Trustee’s services. The Court of Appeal found that "given Trustee’s mismanagement of the trust estate, failure to make the required court filings, and continued service when she lacked a license, the probate court could reasonably conclude that Trustee was not entitled to compensation because any compensation for the service rendered would be inequitable due to Trustee’s multiple failures in administering the trust." The total amount of the surcharge was modified to $92,036.75. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed. View "Scott v. McDonald" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Cortese is the daughter of Francesca, and the stepdaughter of Robert. Attorney Sherwood handled their legal matters under Robert’s direction. Cortese alleges Robert promised her that, upon his death, “he would treat her equally as his other children.” Sherwood drafted Francesca’s will and represented Robert as executor during the administration of Francesca’s estate after Francesca’s 1997 death. Robert was worth $2 billion; Francesca’s estate was valued at $2 million. Robert became the trustee and life beneficiary of Francesca’s trust. Cortese and her sister were remainder beneficiaries. “Relying on Robert’s promises and [Sherwood]’s representations, [Cortese] did not challenge Robert’s acts as executor.” In 2008, “in reliance on promises,” by Sherwood and Robert, Cortese “reluctantly agreed to terminate the Trust … without the advice of counsel.” Cortese alleges the termination favored Robert, causing Cortese and her sister to bear unnecessary capital gains tax. After Robert’s 2016 death, Cortese was not a beneficiary of Robert’s estate. Cortese alleged breach of fiduciary duty against Sherwood and Topham, as co-trustees of Robert’s trust; third-party liability for breach of trust against Sherwood; and return of trust property against both. The court dismissed the second claim against Sherwood, apparently for failure to comply with Civil Code 1714.10: A party must establish a reasonable probability of prevailing before pursuing a “cause of action against an attorney for a civil conspiracy with his ... client arising from any attempt to contest or compromise a claim or dispute.” The court of appeal agreed. Cortese alleged Sherwood conspired with Robert and induced her to forego challenges to Robert’s actions--conduct arising from the compromise of a dispute. No statutory exceptions apply. View "Cortese v. Sherwood" on Justia Law

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Kenneth M. (Matazo) and Kazu Tagami were grantors of the Trust. Matazo and Kazu had three children: Kenneth K., Barbara, and Charles. A family dispute arose when the settlors suspected the prior trustee, who was Barbara's son, of embezzling funds from the Trust. Matazo and Kazu removed the prior trustee and appointed professional fiduciary Claudia Powell as trustee. Attorney Nancy Ewin drafted the restatement of the Trust; Powell hired attorney Kent Thompson to represent her in her fiduciary capacity as trustee of the Trust. A physician certified in March 2012 that Kazu was unable to make her own financial and medical decisions due to medical issues. Matazo died in August 2012. Kazu died almost three years later, in June 2015. Charles challenged two probate orders: (1) settling, allowing and approving the third and final predeath account and report of trustee (Third Account) and finding Charles objected to the Third Account without reasonable cause and in bad faith, which justified an award of costs and fees pursuant to Probate Code section 17211 (a); and (2) an award of attorney fees pursuant to Probate Code 17211 requiring Charles to pay these fees from his share of the Tagami Living Trust or personally if his share was inadequate. The Court of Appeal disagreed with Charles' contentions in both appeals and affirmed the Probate Court's orders. View "Powell v. Tagami" on Justia Law

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Harvey Cohoon was diagnosed with a treatable form of cancer and was residing at Victoria Healthcare Center while he underwent treatment and recovered from various injuries he had suffered. For 19 days, Cohoon did well at Victoria Center. On the 20th day, he was observed to have difficulty swallowing thin liquids, and after evaluation, his diet was changed. Plaintiff contended that change was not properly communicated to the kitchen, and that night he was served a dinner that did not comport with his new diet. Less than 20 minutes after being served dinner, a nurse found him in respiratory arrest. The paramedics had to remove large pieces of chicken from his throat before intubating him. More pieces of chicken were removed from his airway at the hospital. He died the following day due to complications from oxygen deprivation to his brain. Donna Cochrum, Cohoon’s niece, filed suit against Victoria Center, asserting causes of action for elder abuse and negligence. As personal representative of Cohoon’s estate, Cochrum asserted a wrongful death cause of action. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Cochrum on all causes of action. Subsequently, the trial court granted a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), finding insufficient evidence of recklessness to support the elder abuse cause of action. It also adjusted the remaining damages pursuant to Civil Code section 3333.2. Cochrum appealed the amended judgment, contending the evidence supported the elder abuse cause of action. Two of the defendants cross-appealed, contending the court improperly applied the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 cap. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the amended judgment. View "Cochrum v. Costa Victoria Healthcare, LLC" on Justia Law