Category: Legal Expenses

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Guardian of the Galaxy – What is the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem in Trust and Estate Disputes?

Most California trust and estate disputes involve adults who can make their own choices about what to seek and how hard to litigate, such as the common scenario of siblings competing for assets.  But many disputes, or at least potential disagreements, involve people who can’t fend for themselves, such as mentally incapacitated adults, children, or … Continue Reading

California Court May Award Attorney’s Fees to Financial Elder Abuse Plaintiff Who Does Not Prove Damages

A new case from the Court of Appeal once again illustrates the robust nature of claims under California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, also known as the Elder Abuse Act. In Arace v. Medico Investments, LLC (2020) 48 Cal.App.5th 977, a San Bernardino County jury found the owner of a residential care … Continue Reading

Trustees May Not Need Lawyers to Seek Instructions from California Courts, But the Do-It-Yourself Approach Remains Hazardous

While California trustees hope for smooth sailing, they must navigate waters that can be choppy depending on the assets, trust instruments and personalities involved.  As fiduciaries, trustees must honor the trustors’ intent as expressed in the trust instruments.  Sometimes the language is unclear and the trustee needs instruction from a court as to how to … Continue Reading

Another Shiner – Court Confirms Hefty Fee Award to California Attorney General in Breach of Charitable Trust Action

In California, the Attorney General oversees charitable trusts.  This responsibility includes bringing legal actions against trustees who breach their fiduciary duties.  Government Code section 12598 provides that the Attorney General is entitled to recover from a defendant all reasonable attorney’s fees and actual costs incurred in an action to enforce a charitable trust.  But what … Continue Reading

Judge Culhane Shares Thoughts on Sacramento County Probate Department

Judge Kevin R. Culhane rotated into Sacramento County Superior Court’s probate department in January 2020.  He shared his initial impressions with members of the probate bar on February 18, 2020, at the monthly lunch of the Sacramento County Bar Association’s Probate and Estate Planning Law Section. Noting that probate filings are on the rise, he … 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

Probate Code Section 859 Provides a Double Size Hammer

What do you do if someone steals money or property from a trust or estate?  California Probate Code section 850 allows you to ask the Superior Court to order the thief to give the money or property back.  To discourage such theft, Probate Code section 859 provides that the wrongdoer “shall be liable for twice … 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

Free Rider No More — When Can a California Trust Beneficiary Shift Legal Fees to Other Beneficiaries?

American courts (including our California state courts), in contrast to courts in England, do not typically award attorneys’ fees to a lawsuit’s “victor.”  There are, of course, exceptions to this so-called “American Rule.”  Among them is the “common fund” exception, which provides that one who incurs fees winning a lawsuit that creates a fund for … 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

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

Sacramento Appellate Court Rejects Personal Liability for Legal Fees in Trust Disputes

Since California trustees generally can use trust funds to pay lawyers to handle disputes, litigation can drain away the funds available for distribution to beneficiaries.  Hence, an overaggressive beneficiary can pursue litigation that penalizes all beneficiaries, even those who have no responsibility for the fight. Last week the California Third District Court of Appeal, based … Continue Reading

It’s Rigged: How Our California Trust and Estate Litigation Blog Was Dragged into Election 2016

As a trust litigation attorney in Sacramento, I seldom see overlap between bare knuckle political campaigns and family inheritance disputes. So, on the eve of a big election, it seems fitting to report on a new case that bridges political and family conflicts.… Continue Reading

Sacramento Court Limits Reach of Anti-SLAPP Law in Trust Disputes

A few months ago, I wrote about the anti-SLAPP statute as a powerful defensive tool in California trust and estate litigation. Adding new light to the subject is a Sacramento-based appellate court’s decision in Greco v. Greco (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 810. The case narrows the ability of fiduciaries to bring motions to dismiss under 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

California Trust Litigation Update: Trust Assets May Be Used to Defend Contests … Sometimes

A contest over the validity of a trust or a trust amendment is an expensive undertaking, typically requiring extensive discovery and a lengthy trial. Can a trustee use the trust’s assets as a war chest to fight off the contestant, even when the trustee is a beneficiary of the challenged trust document and thus has … Continue Reading
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