Los Angeles County Superior Court

What court should hear a dispute over a California trust?  I briefed this question last month when a judge questioned if a case should instead be adjudicated in neighboring states.  Such jurisdiction issues come up occasionally given the mobility of family members with interests in trusts.

A recent appellate case, Van Buskirk v. Van Buskirk (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 523, shows the “long arm” jurisdictional reach of California courts in trust litigation.  California courts may leap, catch and decide disputes even when nonresident parties would prefer to litigate elsewhere.

Providing for your children is one of the primary purposes of estate planning, but what happens to your carefully crafted trust if you had children you did not know about when you created the trust?  Or, what if you have children after you create your trust but never get around to amending the trust to

For more than a decade, some of Britney Spears’s most devoted fans feared that she was locked up against her will under a court-ordered conservatorship, even going as far to accuse her father, Jamie Spears, of drugging her to take control.  In response, fans launched #FreeBritney, a viral social media campaign, aimed at having

Creators of trusts (also known as settlors or trustors) usually think long and hard about how their property should pass when they die.  It’s therefore common for trustors, or their lawyers, to incorporate protective safeguards into their trust instruments to shield trustors from their own whim and indecision, and ensure nobody trifles with their wishes

In California, a trustor (person who creates a trust) can confer a “power of appointment” on trust beneficiaries, empowering them to designate to whom they want to give their shares of the trust.  The trustor can require trust beneficiaries to specifically exercise and refer to the power of appointment in any will they create to

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 proceed.

If they are not already working with an attorney, most trustees will (and should) seek guidance from counsel when uncertain about what to do.  An attorney, generally at the expense of the trust, can help the trustee decide whether to file a petition for instructions, draft the necessary paperwork, serve it on parties entitled to notice, and then appear in the probate department of the court on behalf of the trustee.  Some DIY-minded trustees, however, may be inclined to proceed without paying an attorney.  Business & Professions Code section 6125 provides that a person can’t practice law unless he/she is an active member of the State Bar of California.  When can a trustee represent himself or herself in court without engaging in unauthorized practice of law?

Earlier this month, the Court of Appeal held in Donkin v. Donkin, Jr. (2020) 47 Cal.App.5th 469 that individuals acting as trustees may represent themselves when seeking instructions from a California court.  Yet, like an inexperienced sailor who attempts a solo ocean journey, a trustee who proceeds without counsel risks serious missteps such that self-representation may end up being far more costly in the long run.

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

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 the conflicts that surface over interpreting wills and trusts.  In both cases, coincidentally involving 35 percent shares, the appellate courts overruled the trial courts, nicely illustrating the complexities of will and trust interpretation.  California Probate Code sections 21101-21118, though obscure, can be pivotal in the analysis.

Born in Fresno, Kirk Kerkorian was an Armenian-American who went on to become a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, known for his role in shaping development in Las Vegas.  After Kerkorian died in June 2015 at the age of 98, his last wife Una Davis filed a claim for a third of his large estate as an “omitted spouse.”

Early this year, the California Court of Appeal ruled in Estate of Kerkorian (2018) 19 Cal.App.5th 709 that Kerkorian’s executor, his longtime business associate Anthony Mandekic, could defend against Davis’ claim, more broadly clarifying when executors can participate in petitions to determine entitlement to decedents’ estates.