Jeffrey S. Galvin

Jeffrey S. Galvin

Jeff Galvin is a partner at Downey Brand LLP. He represents clients in trust and estate litigation, and related civil disputes, in the Greater Sacramento area, across Northern California, and in Northern Nevada. Many of Jeff’s clients have no prior experience with litigation and he works to identify and pursue the results that matter most to them.

Jeff advises trustees, administrators and executors who find themselves in conflict with beneficiaries. He helps beneficiaries assert their rights in trust and probate estates. He often litigates cases involving claims of breach of fiduciary duty in which a beneficiary seeks to remove and/or surcharge a trustee, administrator or executor. He prosecutes and defends trust contests and will contests, which typically raise issues of mental capacity, undue influence and elder financial abuse. For example, he successfully defended a trust contest in a 25-day trial in Calaveras County and then defended the judgment on appeal. Jeff also has filed conservatorship actions to stop financial elder abuse. (Read more…)

Subscribe to all posts by Jeffrey S. Galvin

Could “The Farewell” Approach to Hiding a Terminal Diagnosis Occur in California?

In “The Farewell,” now out in theaters, family members choose not to tell the matriarch (“Nai Nai”) of her terminal lung cancer diagnosis. They use the pretext of a wedding to get the family together in China so that they can spend time with Nai Nai one last time without actually saying goodbye. The well-meaning … Continue Reading

How Do I Evaluate and Dispute a California Trustee’s Fee?

This blog post views a trustee’s fee from the beneficiary’s perspective.  Under California law, a trustee generally can set his or her own fee and collect it without prior disclosure to the beneficiaries.  What can a beneficiary, who sees a hand reaching too greedily in the trust cookie jar, do in response? We discussed best practices for … Continue Reading

A Thin Blue Line: APS and the DA Have Few Resources to Combat Financial Elder Abuse

Seniors are vulnerable to financial elder abuse and are often victimized, but there’s a scarcity of government resources in Sacramento County and elsewhere in California to address the problem. On May 21, 2019, the Sacramento County Bar Association’s Probate and Estate Planning Law Section presented a program entitled “Helping the Helpless: How You Can Help … Continue Reading

The Uncertain Role of Court Appointed Counsel in California Conservatorship Cases

A conservatorship, once ordered by a Superior Court judge in California, deprives a person of the right to control his or her financial affairs or person, or both.  When the judge appoints counsel for the proposed conservatee, what is the lawyer’s role?  Are the lawyer’s ordinary duties of loyalty and confidentiality diminished in the conservatorship … Continue Reading

Life Insurance Policy Benefits, Once Given Away, Cannot Be Redirected

When a man dies in California, who gets the proceeds of his life insurance policy? The answer seems obvious: the named beneficiaries in the paperwork received and accepted by the life insurance company. But what if the man gave the policy away during his lifetime? Can he cancel the gift and redirect the proceeds to … Continue Reading

Probate Code Provides Ground Rules for Who Gets What from Wills and Trusts

Many California will and trust disputes arise from ambiguity in the document with respect to who is entitled to an asset.  Maybe the document was hazy from the start or perhaps circumstances have changed such that the rightful recipient is no longer clear. Two cases decided in the California Court of Appeal last year illustrate … Continue Reading

Trustees Must Terminate California Trust if Terms Compel Distribution

Are six sibling co-trustees too many cooks in the kitchen? Many California trust disputes arise from disagreements among sibling co-trustees over how to administer Mom and Dad’s trust after the parents have passed. They all have a strong sense of what Mom and Dad wanted, but they don’t agree on what it was.  Thus, trust … Continue Reading

Litigators Should Be Collaborators, Not Lone Rangers

Trust and estate litigation attorneys are “trusted advisors.”  Like estate planning attorneys and other professionals who help clients with wealth management, we are fixers who assist clients with navigating conflict relating to a trust or estate.  While we spar in the probate departments of the Superior Court of California, at the end of the day … Continue Reading

A Neuropsychologist’s Take on Mental Capacity Evaluation

Mental capacity issues are commonplace in California trust and probate litigation.  Jonathan Canick, Ph.D., who spoke last year at the Sacramento Estate Planning Council on the subject of “Aging, Cognition and Capacity,” graciously offered to share his thoughts with us here. Dr. Canick has practiced neuropsychology for over 30 years. He is a member of … Continue Reading

Purple Rain Shower in California — Prince’s Estate Chases Northern California Law Firm

When musician Prince Rogers Nelson died at the age of 57 on April 21, 2016, he had no estate plan in place, not even a will.  We blogged that “You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Need an Estate Plan.” As the third anniversary of Prince’s death approaches, his probate estate continues to be administered … Continue Reading

Barefoot No More – California Supreme Court to Review Standing of Trust Contestants

Can a disinherited person contest a trust amendment under California Probate Code section 17200?  No, said the Court of Appeal last August in Barefoot v. Jennings (2018) 27 Cal.App.5th 1. The Barefoot opinion put pending trust contests in jeopardy, as contestants typically have used section 17200 as the procedural hook to challenge trust amendments that … Continue Reading

Trustee Fees in California – Tips for Family Member Trustees

What is a reasonable trustee’s fee in California for a family member who acts as trustee?  We see a high degree of conflict over this issue even when the amount of the claimed fee is small compared to value of the trust estate.  Our blog analytics show that our post of a few years ago … Continue Reading

California Court Can Apply Impossibility Doctrine

What happens when the settlor (i.e., creator) of a trust imposes a condition precedent on receipt of a distribution from the trust, but the condition cannot be met because the circumstances have changed?  Is the beneficiary out of luck for reasons beyond his or her control? The First District Court of Appeal took up this … Continue Reading

California Courts Can Excuse Trustee Who Acts in Good Faith

A California trustee can be excused from liability for breaches of trust if a judge determines that it would be equitable to do so. We see many situations where a family member trustee strays from the requirements of the trust instrument. Still, if the trustee does not favor himself or herself, and the beneficiary is … Continue Reading

California Courts May Scrutinize Conservator Fees

Private professional fiduciaries in California are entitled to charge a reasonable fee for their services, but their fees for acting as conservators are subject to close court scrutiny. A recent California Court of Appeal case, In re Conservatorship of Presha (2018) 26 Cal.App.5th 487, shows how closely probate judges and their staffs may examine the … Continue Reading

Fore! California Court Drives Away Claim that Trustee’s Attorney Breached Trust

When attorneys advise errant trustees, how vulnerable are they to breach of trust claims by injured beneficiaries?  A case published last week by the California Court of Appeal provides a defensive roadmap to attorneys who are sued for such claims, along with an occasion for golf metaphors. In Cortese v. Sherwood (2018) 26 Cal.App.5th 445, … Continue Reading

Why Contingency Fee Representation Is Hard to Obtain in Trust and Will Contests

We often receive inquiries about whether we will represent parties in California trust and will contests on a contingency basis.  In contingency representation, the lawyer does not collect a fee unless the client obtains a favorable settlement or court judgment.  Contingency fees usually are structured on a percentage basis, with the lawyer receiving perhaps 25-40 … Continue Reading

Successor Trustee Gets Privileged Documents Even if Trust Says Otherwise

The attorney-client privilege in California belongs to the office of trustee, not to the incumbent in that office, thus generally allowing successor trustees to obtain confidential communications that their predecessors had with counsel.  We blogged last year about an appellate opinion that reinforced this concept. Last month, in Morgan v. Superior Court (2018) 23 Cal.App.5th … Continue Reading

Resolving California Trust and Estate Disputes – A Mediator’s Perspective

Many California trust and estate disputes are resolved by mediation instead of a final adjudication in the Superior Court.  Mediation can offer a custom-crafted resolution to a case that avoids the stress, expense and unpredictability of a trial.  When parties choose to mediate, there is often a deal to be found even if the positions … Continue Reading

Mental Capacity Standards in California Civil Litigation

What mental capacity standards apply in California civil litigation?  Last month we presented on this subject at the Placer County Bar Association’s annual spring conference in Roseville.  I’ll offer highlights here. Short answer: it depends.  The mental capacity standard varies depending on the setting.  The policy rationale for the different standards is elusive, so as … Continue Reading

Stepmother vs. Stepchild, Now Playing in a California Probate Court Near You

Stepmothers are frequent characters in California trust and estate litigation, as they are in fairy tales and Disney movies.  With about half of all marriages ending in divorce, there are many stepmother/stepchild relationships.  Mostly they work out fine, but some go south. After blogging on sibling conflicts as a driver of trust and estate disputes, … Continue Reading

New Judge in Sacramento County Superior Court Probate Department

This month Judge John P. Winn replaces Judge Steven M. Gevercer as the Supervising Probate Judge in Department 129 of the Sacramento County Superior Court, as part of judicial reassignments that occur each January. Judge Winn will be handling a broad range of matters in Department 129, including trust disputes, probate administrations, conservatorships and guardianships.  … Continue Reading
LexBlog