Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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Plaintiffs Nancy Brenner, individually and in her representative capacity as representative of the estate of Dale Brenner, and Zach Brenner, individually, appealed judgments entered in favor of defendants Universal Health Services of Rancho Springs, Inc., doing business as Southwest Healthcare System - Inland Valley Medical Center (UHS) and Dr. Young H. Lee, M.D. (Dr. Lee or Lee). Dale Brenner, Nancy's husband and Zach's father, was a patient at the Inland Valley Medical Center for approximately 23 days after he suffered a stroke a few hours after arriving at the emergency department of the hospital. He was eventually transferred to another medical facility, where he later died. Approximately a year after Dale Brenner's death, the plaintiffs sued UHS, Lee, and additional defendants, asserting causes of action for wrongful death based on medical negligence; retaliation; and elder abuse. Lee and UHS moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. On appeal, the plaintiffs contended the trial court erroneously granted summary judgment in favor of UHS and Lee. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgments. View "Brenner v. Universal Health etc." on Justia Law

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Fred, age 86, and his 79-year-old wife, Martha, filed suit under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act. In the 1990s, before the defendants were involved, the couple purchased life insurance policies, which were held by a revocable living trust for their children. The Trust was self-sustaining, with no need for additional cash for ongoing premium costs. In 2013, Fred was suffering from cognitive decline; Martha had Alzheimer’s disease. Defendants allegedly carried out a scheme that involved arranging the surrender of one policy and the replacement of the other with a policy providing limited coverage, at massively increased cost. The premiums for the new coverage were $800,000, forcing the couple to feed cash into the Trust. Defendants argued that the Children’s Trust owned the policies, that the money was paid voluntarily for the benefit of their children, and that the Trust does not have an Elder Abuse Act claim “because [it] is not 65 years old.” The court of appeals reversed dismissal. Regardless of what specific damages may be available to the couple, as distinguished from the Trust, it can be fairly inferred that the couple suffered some damages unique to themselves. The defendants “knew or should have known” of the “likely” harm their scheme would have on the couple. View "Mahan v. Charles W. Chan Insurance Agency" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of the wife under Code of Civil Procedure section 631.8, holding that despite the form of the bank accounts, when clear and convincing evidence shows funds were transferred to an account owner to hold in an irrevocable trust for a third party beneficiary and the trustee repudiates the trust, a constructive trust may be imposed on the funds for the beneficiary's estate to prevent unjust enrichment. In this case, the wife agreed to hold funds in trust for her husband's elderly stepmother, she changed the form of the accounts after her husband's death and used the funds for her own purposes, and the stepmother's personal representative filed suit seeking to impose a constructive trust on the funds after the stepmother passed away. The Court of Appeal explained that the wife held the funds in the accounts in trust for the stepmother, and her repudiation of the trust by removing the stepmother's name from the accounts and using the funds for her own purposes was a wrongful act supporting the imposition of a constructive trust. View "Higgins v. Higgins" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Plaintiff filed suit against her three siblings, on behalf of her 88-year-old mother. Plaintiff claimed that her siblings' actions individually and while serving as trustees of her mother's revocable living trust constituted financial abuse of an elder or dependent adult. The siblings demurred. The mother, separately represented by counsel, intervened and joined the demurrer to the amended complaint. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend and dismissed the elder abuse action on standing grounds. The court concluded that the trial court did not err in ruling that plaintiff lacked standing to bring the elder abuse action because she has not be personally aggrieved by her siblings' actions. The court rejected plaintiff's claims to the contrary and affirmed the judgment. View "Tepper v. Wilkins" on Justia Law

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The patriarch-settlor appointed defendant Melissa Reynoso (a granddaughter of the settlor) as trustee of his estate. In this proceeding, the trial court determined Reynoso was the most reliable and credible of the family members. The trial court found that other family members were not credible. Reynoso sold real property of the trust to Karen Bartholomew (a daughter of the settlor). Plaintiff Anthony Pizarro (a grandson of the settlor) filed a petition for relief against Reynoso concerning the sale of the real property. The court denied the petition and ordered Pizarro and others to pay the trust’s attorney fees and costs. On appeal, Pizarro contended the trial court erred in finding that Reynoso acted properly as trustee. However, the Court of Appeal found he failed to make a focused, organized, and coherent argument for why the Court should have reversed the order. The Court therefore concluded he forfeited the argument. Pizarro and Bartholomew contended that the award of attorney fees and costs against them was improper. The Court concluded that the attorney fees and costs were properly and lawfully imposed under the trial court’s equitable power over the trust, except to the extent the trial court made Pizarro and Bartholomew personally liable for attorney fees and costs, rather than liable solely from their shares of the trust assets. The award of attorney fees and costs to the extent it imposed personal liability was reversed; in all other respects, the Court affirmed. View "Pizarro v. Reynoso" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the court of appeal upheld the probate court’s decision to grant the petition of Alexander Hughes, the sole noncontingent trust beneficiary (and trustor Mark Hughes’ only child), to suspend and remove trustees due to their breach of trust in failing to exercise reasonable prudence in connection with the trust’s sale of Tower Grove, a 157-acre parcel of previously undeveloped Beverly Hills real property. A subsequent order allowed the former trustees to withhold from the successor trustee and Alexander Hughes, some, but not all, of a collection of documents identified on a supplemental privilege log submitted by the former trustees under court order. The documents, which are from the trust’s legal files and relate to two trust accountings submitted by the former trustees prior to their removal, were withheld on the basis of attorney-client privilege. The court of appeal reversed in part, finding that the probate court failed to consistently and appropriately apply the legal standards prescribed by the California Supreme Court. View "Fiduciary Trust International of California v. Klein" on Justia Law

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The beneficiary of a trust seeks the value of “opportunities lost” resulting from the trustees’ refusal or neglect to distribute trust assets to the beneficiary. William Morgan created an irrevocable subtrust for the benefit of his daughter, Beverly. The subtrust started with an equity value of $67,500, and grew to the value of over $725,000. Beverly caused the succesor trustee to file suit alleging that if Beverly had been made aware of the subtrust, she would have used its assets to prevent the loss of her home. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the trustees. The court concluded that, in the absence of damages, Beverly has not established her claim for breach of fiduciary duties. The court also concluded that the record supports the trial court’s conclusion that the cotrustees did not breach their fiduciary duties to Beverly. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Williamson v. Brooks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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A "squabble" erupted between family members over the property of the deceased patriarch. The patriarch-settlor appointed defendant Melissa Reynoso (a granddaughter of the settlor) as trustee. In this proceeding, the trial court determined Reynoso was the most reliable and credible of the family members. The trial court found that other family members were not credible. Reynoso sold real property of the trust to Karen Bartholomew (a daughter of the settlor). Plaintiff Anthony Pizarro (a grandson of the settlor) filed a petition for relief against Reynoso concerning the sale of the real property. The court denied the petition and ordered Pizarro and others to pay the trust’s attorney fees and costs. On appeal, Pizarro contended the trial court erred in finding that Reynoso acted properly as trustee. However, the Court of Appeal concluded he failed to make a focused, organized, and coherent argument for why the Court had to reverse the order. Therefore, the Court concluded he forfeited the argument. Pizarro and Bartholomew contend that the award of attorney fees and costs against them was improper. The Court reversed the award of attorney fees and costs to the extent it imposed personal liability, rather than liable solely from their shares of trust assets. In all other respects, the Court affirmed. View "Pizarro v. Reynoso" on Justia Law

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In 2012, B.C., age 30, suffered cardiac arrest and brain damage from the use of methamphetamine and alcohol. She initially lived with and was cared for by her mother. When her mother died, B.C. inherited $450,000. She also received disability payments. Although she had limited cognitive function, she subsequently married Jesse, with whom she had been “partying” at the time of her cardiac arrest. In 2014, B.C.’s aunt, C.S., sought appointment as probate conservator. Through counsel, B.C. opposed the petition. Jesse participated in hiring and advising the attorney. The court appointed the Ventura County Public Defender to represent B.C. An appointed conservator for B.C.’s estate sought reimbursement of $30,000, for disability benefits that Jesse had diverted to himself. Jesse has no assets and is responsible for five children. After a bench trial, the court appointed C.S., Prob. Code 1800. The court of appeal affirmed. Probate conservatorships do not require a personal waiver of the right to a jury trial because the proceedings pose no threat of confinement and are conducted according to the law relating to civil actions, including trial by jury if demanded by the proposed conservatee. B.C.’s attorney had authority to waive a jury trial on her behalf, even if the court failed to recite that B.C. had a right to a jury. The record supports the finding that B.C. cannot take care of her own needs, nor can her husband be trusted to do so. View "Conservatorship of B.C." on Justia Law

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The testator, Margor Rachael Dayan, the mother of plaintiff and defendant, had an interest in commercial real property located in North Hollywood. Her will conveyed all her rights, title, and interests in the property to plaintiff’s trust. Plaintiff filed a petition for an order to establish that Ms. Dayan’s estate had title to the property in its entirety. Defendant opposed the Probate Code section 850, subdivision (a)(2) petition. The probate court ruled defendant owned a one-third interest in the property and denied plaintiff’s judgment on the pleadings motion. The court concluded that the probate court did not err by denying plaintiff's petition where substantial evidence supports the probate court's findings. In this case, the probate court found Ms. Dayan intended to convey a one-third interest in the property to defendant. The court also concluded that the probate court correctly denied plaintiff’s judgment on the pleadings motion. View "Estate of Dayan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates