We started Trust on Trial with a post on undue influence in November 2015 and now mark the blog’s fifth anniversary. We thank readers of our “five cents” for their feedback, reflect on where we’ve been, and look towards the future.
Focused on California trust and estate litigation, and dispute avoidance, we have published 127 posts since our launch. Our posts are hosted on the LexBlog publishing platform and published on JD Supra, where we recently received a Top Author award. This year, the University of California’s CEB program, a leading provider of continuing legal education, began to feature our posts on its website.
Most readers find our posts through organic search – that is, by entering search terms in Google or another search engine. Google Analytics helps us track what posts draw readers to our blog.
Over the past five years, our posts on trustee fees have drawn the highest number of page views. In a 2016 post, we wrote about how trustee fees can become a big bone of contention in the administration of family trusts. A 2018 post offered best practices for a trustee with respect to claiming a fee. Since trustee fees in California generally are governed by a reasonableness standard (not a mathematical formula), and family members often have divergent views on what’s reasonable, we expect trustee fees to be a perennial source of conflict.
We addressed the subject of trustee removal in a 2016 post that also has drawn many page views. California beneficiaries frequently consider seeking the removal of a problem trustee, but they will need to provide strong evidence that the trustee is unfit to serve before a judge will order the trustee’s removal.
Instead of appointing the complaining beneficiary to serve as successor trustee, a California court may be more inclined to appoint a third party such as a bank trust department or private professional fiduciary. As trust beneficiaries consider alternative trustees, many have viewed our 2017 post on professional fiduciaries who are licensed by the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau of the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
We wrote about how co-trustee conflict fuels California trust litigation in a much-read 2017 post. It may seem “fair” to Mom and Dad to name two or more of their children to serve as successor trustees, but co-trustees may struggle to work together, leading one trustee to petition a court to instruct or remove the other(s).
Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has upset estate planning, administration and litigation. We have written about the difficulty of notarizing documents while maintaining social distancing and the unprecedented tolling of California statutes of limitation.
The pandemic’s impact on pending litigation in California has varied from county to county. While probate departments are now back up and running, many courts are precluding in person appearances, leaving lawyers and self-represented parties to appear by video or telephone. Some courts, such as Sacramento County Superior Court, have a substantial civil trial backlog such that probate cases requiring multi-day trials will not be heard in the short term.
Over the last five years, the Legislature has continued to tinker with trust and estate law, and California appellate courts have issued dozens of published opinions that clarify the Probate Code’s application. We look forward to continuing to share such new developments with you.
At the same time, Google Analytics reminds us of the durability of the common flashpoints of trust and estate disputes. Our readers are keenly interested in who’s in control as trustee, how much the trustee is charging or can charge, and whether and how the trustee can be removed from office.
As we embark on a sixth year of blogging, with masks on and fingers crossed for a pandemic-ending vaccine, we appreciate your support and welcome your ideas for future posts.
Jeffrey Galvin is an attorney with Downey Brand LLP, based in Sacramento. He litigates trust and estate cases in Northern California, including disputes involving trust and probate administration, contests of trusts and wills, and financial elder abuse claims.