Category: Inheritance Disputes

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California Probate Administration Is No Time for Napping

In the absence of a trust that allows assets to pass without opening probate, the California probate process lasts for at least six months and can run much longer depending on the size of the estate and the nature of assets. The role of the personal representative (i.e., the “executor” if nominated in the will) … Continue Reading

When Defending Becomes Offensive: California Court Expands No Contest Clauses to Defense of Invalid Amendment

No contest clauses are included in wills and trusts to discourage dissatisfied beneficiaries from challenging the document’s validity. Because enforcement of these clauses results in disinheritance, the California Probate Code limits their applicability. But what happens when a beneficiary defends a trust amendment that is found to be invalid? Can the defense of an invalid … 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

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

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

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

Play It Again: No Contest Clauses Must Be Referenced In Each California Trust Amendment

No contest clauses are an ever-evolving area of the probate law in California.  The Court of Appeal further refined the rules governing no contest clauses in a decision issued last week, Aviles v. Swearingen (2017) 16 Cal.App.5th 485.  In brief, in order for a no contest clause to apply to a trust amendment, the no … Continue Reading

Anti-SLAPP Case Features Arm Wrestling Siblings and a Prep School

California’s anti-SLAPP statute has generated another published case for trust and estate lawyers to ponder.  Last week, in Urick v. Urick (2017) 15 Cal.App.5th 1182, the California Court of Appeal confirmed that anti-SLAPP motions can be used to attack petitions to enforce no contest clauses. The opinion reminds California trust and estate counsel to be … Continue Reading

Look! Up in the Sky! It’s Sibling Lawyer!

I’m a sibling lawyer.  My career started early, as a middle child, and now continues as a Sacramento-based trust and estate litigation attorney.  Most of my clients are grappling with sisters or brothers over the care and finances of aging or deceased parents.  In Family Feud parlance, my “survey says” that sibling versus sibling is … Continue Reading

Take It or Leave It: The Perilous Decision of Whether to Violate a No Contest Clause

One of the most dramatic areas of California trust and estate litigation is no contest clauses.  No contest clauses bring a made-for-tv excitement to the practice of trust and estate law because of the risk of disinheritance.  Yet such clauses are widely misunderstood, even among attorneys.… Continue Reading

A Sacramento Estate Planner Shares Thoughts on Conflict Avoidance

I asked estate planning attorney John Goralka, of the Goralka Law Firm in Sacramento, to share his thoughts on working with clients to avoid disputes over their estate plans. John has been a lawyer since 1988.  The State Bar of California has certified him as a specialist in both Taxation Law and Estate Planning, Trust … Continue Reading

Notice of Proposed Action May Quiet Back Seat Driving Beneficiaries

Acting as a trustee can be a thankless and time consuming job, especially when the reward at the end is nothing more than second-guessing from trust beneficiaries.  In our Sacramento-based trust and estate practice, we represent trustees who have strained relationships with beneficiaries, whether their siblings, step-relatives, or otherwise.  One useful tool to help trustees manage … Continue Reading

Are California Trusts that Favor Spouses Presumptively Invalid?

When Wife works with her Sacramento estate planning lawyer to favor her Husband over her children from a prior marriage in her trust, does California law presume that Husband exerted undue influence over the Wife to gain a benefit?  Until 2014, most California trust and estate lawyers would answer that question in the negative.  Favoring … Continue Reading

When Does Bad Behavior in Trust and Estate Disputes Become Criminal?

Many trust and estate disputes in Sacramento County Superior Court and elsewhere involve financial elder abuse. Concerned family members may sue the wrongdoer in civil court to recover monetary damages. But what about criminal penalties? When does the “bad guy” (or gal) end up in jail? While many of my clients are rightfully outraged about … Continue Reading

California Courts Interpret Ambiguous Trust Documents by Stepping Into Creator’s Shoes

Guest author Karina Stanhope, a former Downey Brand associate, contributes today’s post. Trust documents should be customized to serve the estate planning objectives of those who create them. While Parent One may want all of her assets to be distributed in equal shares to her children, Parent Two may want to exclude a child from … Continue Reading

Court in California Trust Contest Invalidates Transfer to Drafting Attorney

  “An ethical estate planning attorney will plan for his client, not for himself.” With those words, the California Court of Appeal recently ripped Southern California attorney John LeBouef for taking advantage “of an elderly and mentally infirm person to enrich himself.”  In Butler v. LeBouef (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 198, the appellate court affirmed the … Continue Reading

Watch Out for SLAPPs in California Trust and Estate Litigation

In heated California trust and estate litigation, one party’s petition to the probate court often leads the other side to file a retaliatory petition. If Sally petitions in Sacramento County Superior Court to contest Mom’s trust amendment on the ground that Mom had Alzheimer’s disease and lacked sufficient mental capacity to reduce Sally’s share, brother … Continue Reading

Til Death Do Us Part: California’s New Transfer on Death Deeds

California’s new transfer on death deeds (“ToD deeds”) allow for the transfer of real estate upon the occurrence of death without the need for costly estate planning or probate administration. Codified at California Probate Code section 5600 – 5696, the new mechanism may fill a void in the array of estate planning options, but it … Continue Reading

“You Don’t Have to Be Rich” to Need a Plan

Prince died in April 2016 without a will or trust, according to documents recently filed by his sister in the Carver County District Court in Minnesota. Perhaps a will or trust will surface eventually, as occurred with Michael Jackson’s estate. However, the revelation in “The Morning Papers” that Prince died intestate (legalese for no will … Continue Reading

Alzheimer’s Disease Requires a Close Look in California Trust Litigation

For a richly-detailed profile of a woman’s experience with Alzheimer’s disease, read “Fraying at the Edges,” an article by N. R. Kleinfield that appeared on May 1, 2016 in the New York Times. The author follows Geri Taylor, who was first diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment in 2012 at age 69, and introduces us to … Continue Reading

Undue Influence – A Titanic Challenge for Estate Planning Attorneys

Spotting undue influence is no easy task for estate planning attorneys. When Mom wants to change her trust to favor Sally over Johnny, Mom presumably is making her own choice for her own reasons. But it’s also possible that Sally, behind the scenes, is pushing Mom to make the change. An estate planner is like … Continue Reading

How Fictional Is John Grisham’s Novel About a Will Contest?

On a road trip over the holidays, I listened to John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, as artfully read by Michael Beck. Published in 2013, it’s a sequel to Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, and again features young country lawyer Jake Brigance. This time, instead of an accused man, he’s defending the handwritten will of … Continue Reading

You May Have to Challenge Mom’s Trust Amendment Before She Dies

Most will and trust contests in California start several months after the death of the person who created the document. Such litigation has a forensic quality: did Mom have sufficient mental capacity back when she signed the will/trust, or was she the victim of undue influence? Mom is not around to testify as to what … Continue Reading

Put Up Your Dukes: Courts Can Fix Mistakes in Wills … Sometimes

Sound estate planning requires a clear description of how property will pass upon death – in other words, who gets what. So what happens when the written terms differ from what the will’s creator actually wanted? Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court ruled in Estate of Duke (2015) 61 Cal.4th 871 that courts may … Continue Reading
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