Estate Planning and Administration

Wife's Undue Influence Over Changes Made to Husband's Trust Voids Changed Terms of the Trust

January 24, 2014 | Bulletin No. 1077483.1

A California court of appeal affirmed a ruling voiding the terms of a trust after finding that there was ample evidence to support that the decedent's wife used undue influence over him to change the trust.  The court held in Lintz v. Lintz (January 14, 2014) --- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 6 Dist.), that even though a probate court had earlier used the incorrect legal standard to reach its finding, ample evidence nonetheless supported the finding of undue influence and the remedy of voiding the trust was correct.

Motion to Strike Under Anti-SLAPP Statute Erroneously Granted in Connection With Conversion, Unjust Enrichment and Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claims

January 16, 2014 | Bulletin No. 1074529.1

A motion to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP statute was filed in response to a lawsuit initiated by beneficiaries against a trustee and executor of an estate.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the beneficiaries’ claims that were directly related to the probate filings and proceedings but reversed the dismissal of their claims of conversion, unjust enrichment, and breach of fiduciary duty.  (Graham-Sult v. Clainos (--- F.3d ----, C.A.9 (Cal.), December 27, 2013).

UPDATE: California Supreme Court Rules That a No-Contest Clause in a Trust is Unenforceable Except Under Specific Circumstances

January 3, 2014 | Bulletin No. 1072922.1

The California Supreme Court recently ruled in Donkin v. Donkin (December 26, 2013), that a challenge to the terms of a trust, in which beneficiaries were seeking interpretation and claiming fiduciary misconduct by trustees, cannot be barred by a no-contest clause because the clause, in such an instance, was unenforceable.

Arbitration Agreement with a Care Facility is not Enforceable when not Authorized by the Patient Herself

November 1, 2013 | Bulletin No. 1038347.1

A California court of appeal recently ruled that an agreement to arbitrate disputes between an elderly patient and a nursing facility was not enforceable.  The arbitration agreement was signed by the daughter of the patient at the time the patient was admitted.  Because the patient herself had neither actually nor ostensibly provided authority for her daughter to make such legal decisions on her behalf, the court held that the agreement was not enforceable.  (Young v. Horizon West (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 6 Dist., October 28, 2013).

Trustee of Property is not Liable for an Injury that Occurs on the Property When Trustee is not Personally at Fault

October 30, 2013 | Bulletin No. 1040817.1

A California Court of Appeal ruled recently that a trustee of a property, where an injury occurred, cannot be found liable for the injury in the absence of a showing that the trustee was personally at fault for causing the injury.

Significant Evidence that Testator did not Destroy his Will Ends the Presumption that the Will was Revoked

September 19, 2013 | Bulletin No. 1037852.1

In Estate of Trikha (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 4 Dist., September 13, 2013), a California court of appeal determined whether a will signed by a man shortly before he committed suicide, but which could not be found after his death, should be considered revoked.  The court ruled that even in the absence of proof that someone other than the testator took or destroyed the will, significant evidence allowing for that possibility removes the presumption that the will was revoked.

Life Insurance Company that Filed Interpleader Action to Determine How to Proceed With Benefits Resulting From a Homicide is Entitled to be Awarded Attorney Fees and Costs

September 13, 2013 | Bulletin No. 1037411.1

In Farmers New World Life Insurance Company v. Rees (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 2 Dist., August 30, 2013), a California court of appeal considered whether a life insurance company that delayed paying benefits to the spouse of a decedent, who had been a suspect in causing her death, was entitled to be awarded attorney fees from the benefits after pursuing an interpleader action to determine how to proceed with the claim.  The court ruled that the trial court’s award of fees was proper because the funds were “disputed funds,” the company asserted no interest in the funds, and nothing in law excludes a life insurance company from being awarded costs and fees.

Time Extension for Out-of-State Responses to Legal Documents Does Not Apply to an Action Contesting a Trust

September 6, 2013 | Bulletin No. 1036986.1

In Bridgeman v. Allen (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 4 Dist., August 30, 2013), a California court of appeal considered whether a Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) section applied to an action contesting a trust.  The CCP provides 10 additional days for deadlines to respond to legal notices when a respondent is outside the State of California.  However, the Probate Code requires challenges to a trust be made within 120 days of notice of the trust and that the notice is deemed given when it is placed in the mail.  The court held that because the specific Probate Code sections supersede the more general CCP sections, the time extension does not apply to deadlines for actions contesting a trust.

Law Firm is Barred From Representing New Client in a Dispute Over Will Drafted for a Former Client

August 14, 2013 | Bulletin No. 1035411.1

In Fiduciary Trust International v. Superior Court (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 2 Dist., July 31, 2013), a California court of appeal considered whether a law firm that had been employed to draft wills and related documents twenty years earlier could now represent clients seeking to challenge provisions of the wills.  The court ruled that because attorneys are prohibited from taking actions adverse to the interests of former clients on substantially related matters, the firm was disqualified from the case.

Bankruptcy Spurred By Court Judgment May Proceed For The Proper Purpose Of Reorganization; Judge's Adversarial Rulings And Remarks Do Not Show Bias

July 19, 2013 | Bulletin No. 1032299.1

In In Re J. Howard Marshall (--- F.3d ----, C.A.9 (Cal.), June 28, 2013), the United States Court of Appeals considered the validity of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.  The bankruptcy had been challenged because it was allegedly facilitated in order to avoid the payment of a debt arising from a fraud judgment.  Additionally, the judge who administered the bankruptcy had previously issued adversarial rulings and comments to one of the challengers of the bankruptcy in a separate, but related matter.  The court ruled that adversarial rulings by a judge do not give rise to a finding of bias, and that while the bankruptcy may have been spurred by the fraud judgment, that act alone does not indicate that it was not filed for the proper purpose of reorganization.

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