Blast from the Past – Trusts Subject to Medi-Cal Reimbursement

We begin the year with a case, Riverside County Public Guardian v. Snukst (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, involving an elder with dementia who received Medi-Cal benefits.

The case, a blast from the past, illustrates how the State of California, under the law in effect until several years ago, could recoup the cost of such benefits from an elder’s revocable trust.

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Another Broad Reading of the Elder Abuse Act Protects Seniors

We “ring” in 2022 with a recent case that again shows the long reach of statutory financial elder abuse claims in California trust and estate litigation. In Ring v. Harmon (2021) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, the Court of Appeal considered an alleged loan scheme to drain equity out of a house held in a probate estate.

Even though the loan was taken out by the elder in her capacity as personal representative of an estate, the court ruled that she could bring an elder abuse claim arising from the loss to her personal beneficial interest in the estate.

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Assembly Bill 1194 – How Will “Free Britney” Impact California Lawyers and Courts?

Assembly Bill 1194, approved by Governor Newsom on September 30, 2021, tightens oversight of California conservators, especially those licensed by the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau.

The bill expands the duties of California courts with respect to conservatorships, though some reforms depend upon funding in future legislation.  With a projected budget surplus, and keen public interest in the Britney Spears conservatorship, the Legislature appears likely to fund the implementation of AB 1194 in 2022.

For now, what provisions of AB 1194 are of primary interest to California conservatorship lawyers?  If given an opportunity to “free” a “Britney,” should a lawyer jump at the chance to “Do Somethin’” or decline a project that could become “Toxic”?  Though readers may “Hold It Against Me,” song titles “Sometimes” decorate our look at AB 1194.

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Should “Dutiful Children” and “Dutiful Spouses” Be Exempt from the Undue Influence Presumption?

California trust and estate disputes often feature claims by one sibling that another gained a larger share by unduly influencing a parent. When there are factors suggesting undue influence, who should bear the burden of proof? The disfavored sibling or the favored one?

Florida courts have decided that dutiful children, and spouses, should not be stuck with proving the absence of undue influence. Should California take the same approach?

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Look Before Leaping Into an Anti-SLAPP Motion

Suing the suer is a common strategy in California civil litigation. A special motion to strike, known as an anti-SLAPP motion, can be a powerful weapon against retaliatory litigation.  We have explained the use of such motions in trust and estate disputes. More specifically, we have explored their application to petitions to enforce no contest clauses on multiple occasions.

A recent decision by the California Court of Appeal delves into this issue once again. Dae v. Traver (2021) 69 Cal.App.5th 447 illustrates just how difficult it can be to prevail on an anti-SLAPP motion, no matter how weak the no contest petition may seem to be. Lawyers should look before they leap into an anti-SLAPP motion that may be doomed to fail.

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Unilateral Severance of Joint Tenancy Must Be Unequivocal and Irrevocable

Can a California will sever a joint tenancy such that the decedent’s interest in real property passes per will’s terms instead of vesting in the surviving joint tenant(s)? Additionally, when a general partnership dissolves after the death of a partner’s spouse, does the deceased spouse’s estate have a community property interest in the distributed partnership assets?

The California Court of Appeal addressed these questions in Pearce v. Briggs (2021) 68 Cal.App.5th 466, a case arising from a blended family’s battle over Bakersfield real estate. The opinion casts doubt on when, if ever, a will may sever a joint tenancy. The opinion also shows how beneficiaries of a deceased spouse may have difficulty enforcing a community property interest in a general partnership operated by the surviving spouse.

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Trust Modification/Amendment Procedure Now Unsettled in California

[Editor’s Note: The California Supreme Court granted review of Haggerty v. Thornton on December 22, 2021 in Case No. S271483.  The Supreme Court is likely to resolve the conflict between Haggerty v. Thornton and King v. Lynch.  In the meantime, per the Supreme Court’s order, the Haggerty opinion remains citable.]

The Legislature and courts endeavor to create well-defined laws, lest we devolve into the governance of Emperor Nero, who reputedly posted edicts high atop columns so as to be painfully difficult for the masses to read. As Nero surely knew, clarity in the law is critical for people to know how to act, especially when far-reaching consequences are at play. But despite our government’s best intentions to post edicts in clear print and at eye-level, ambiguities in the law often emerge when statutes are scrutinized. As this post demonstrates, the statute concerning trust modification/amendment is no exception.

In Haggerty v. Thornton (2021) 68 Cal.App.5th 1003, the Fourth District Court of Appeal challenged the Fifth District Court of Appeal’s opinion in King v. Lynch (2012) 139 Cal.App.4th 1186 over the contours of Probate Code section 15402, which concerns a settlor’s right to modify or amend a trust. Haggerty’s rejection of the rule of law established in King creates a split of authority. This game of thrones amongst the appellate “kingdoms” eventually may find its way to “King’s Landing,” i.e., the California Supreme Court.

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Making Peace in Mediation – A Conversation with Daniel Spector

Daniel Spector has litigated trust and estate cases in Northern California since the early 1990s. He is now focusing his practice on mediating trust and estate disputes across California, working with Judicate West. Dan is a colleague on the Executive Committee of the Trusts and Estates Section of the California Lawyers Association, and I thank him for sharing his thoughts here.

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Fraud Claims May Reopen Court-Approved Accountings

Even a court order approving an accounting may not protect a California fiduciary if the accounting is inaccurate. That’s the upshot of Hudson v. Foster (2021) 68 Cal.App.5th 640, a recent California Court of Appeal decision involving a conservatorship.

The conservatee in this case consented to the conservator’s account and four years passed before the conservatee complained about its accuracy. The appellate court nonetheless revived the conservatee’s motion to vacate the order approving the account. When a fiduciary misrepresents facts in an accounting, a court order settling or approving the account won’t immunize the fiduciary from a challenge to the order on an “extrinsic fraud” theory.

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Zach Young, Second Generation Fiduciary, Helps Families with Transitions

Zachary Young is a private professional fiduciary with CMY Fiduciary Services in Sacramento.  His mother, Carolyn M. Young, began work as a fiduciary in 1986.  Zach received his bachelor’s degree in business and communications at Sacramento State University.  Zach joined his mother and sister, Lindsay Bowman, in the fiduciary business.  In 2012, he received his fiduciary license from California’s Professional Fiduciaries Bureau.

As he looks forward to continuing to help families with trusts, probate administrations, and conservatorships, Zach shared his thoughts with Trust on Trial.

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