Category: Mental Capacity

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Daughter Liable for Interfering with Stepmother’s Inheritance

Intentional interference with expected inheritance (IIEI) was recognized as a legal claim in California about eight years ago in Beckwith v. Dahl (2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 1039.  Last week, the Court of Appeal issued the first published opinion in California that affirms a judgment in favor of a plaintiff on an IIEI claim, thus providing guidance … Continue Reading

Temporary Conservators May Lack Authority to Sign Contracts for Conservatees

Can a temporary conservator of a person effectively sign paperwork that admits the conservatee to a California senior living facility subject to an arbitration agreement?  Only if the temporary conservator has special authorization to do so. Holley v. Silverado Senior Living Management, Inc. (2020) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, decided in August, is a cautionary tale for … Continue Reading

Memo to #FreeBritney Fans: How California Conservatees May Challenge Their Conservators

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 Britney’s … Continue Reading

Home Sweet Home – California Legislature Aims to Safeguard Conservatee Residences

Effective January, 1, 2020, the Legislature changed California conservatorship law with respect to the personal residences of conservatees.  Senate Bill 303 attempts to protect conservatees by making it harder to relocate them from and sell their residences.  Proponents argued that existing law made it too easy for conservators to liquidate the homes of conservatees.  The … Continue Reading

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

New California Statutes Change Spousal Undue Influence Presumptions

California trust and estate disputes often involve allegations that a surviving spouse took advantage of a deceased spouse so as to get more of the latter’s assets.  Often the “spousal financial abuse” charges are leveled by the deceased spouse’s biological children against their step-parent, as discussed in a prior post.  Sometimes care custodians who are … Continue Reading

I’m Still Standing – California Supreme Court Allows Trust Amendment Contests in Probate Court

Last week the California Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion in Barefoot v. Jennings (2020) 8 Cal.5th 822, ruling that a trust beneficiary disinherited in an amendment may contest the amendment’s validity in the probate department of the Superior Court under California Probate Code section 17200. The Court of Appeal had narrowly construed section 17200 … Continue Reading

California Assisted Living Residents Are Vulnerable to Financial Elder Abuse

As our population ages, more of our seniors are moving into assisted living facilities.  The number of such facilities has nearly tripled over the past two decades, with construction of memory care units the fastest-growing segment of senior care.  Half of assisted living residents are age 85 and older, and over 40 percent have some … Continue Reading

Elder Abuse Is Not a Trojan Horse – Bad Faith Must Be Shown for Double Damages Under Probate Code Section 859

Probate Code section 859, our subject in a recent post, packs a punch in California trust litigation.  It awards double damages against someone who in bad faith wrongfully takes property from an elder, in bad faith takes property through undue influence, or who takes property through the commission of financial elder abuse. While the first … Continue Reading

California Legislature Cracks Down on Caregivers Who Marry Dependent Adults

Many California financial elder abuse cases we see involve caregivers. While the vast majority are honest, a caregiver who spends many hours alone with a vulnerable client has a unique opportunity to exploit the situation. A crafty and crooked caregiver may go so far as to marry his or her client as part of a … Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Look for Mild Cognitive Impairment in California Trust and Estate Disputes

Mental incapacity and undue influence are the most common theories used to try to invalidate wills, trusts and beneficiary designations in California and elsewhere.  Occasionally, the subject in a trust and estate dispute has a thorough cognitive evaluation performed contemporaneously with his or her estate planning change.  But, more often than not, the medical record … Continue Reading

Courts Should Read Elder Abuse Act Broadly to Stop Wrongdoers

California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act is elastic enough to encompass claims arising from sharp insurance sales practices, even when elders do not pay anything directly to the agents.  So concluded the First District Court of Appeal earlier this month in Mahan v. Charles W. Chan Insurance Agency, Inc. (2017) 12 Cal.App.5th … Continue Reading

Standing Up to Your Siblings: Who Can Bring a Financial Elder Abuse Claim?

While financial elder abuse is a serious problem in California, not just anyone can sue to protect an abused elder.  This is especially true if the elder does not want to bring suit in the first place.  On April 19, 2017, the California Court of Appeal reinforced an important issue related to standing to bring … Continue Reading

Sacramento Trust and Probate Litigation “Boot Camp” Program

The Sacramento County Bar Association’s Probate and Estate Planning Section hosted its first ever “boot camp” program on trust and estate litigation on September 20, 2016. As an alternative to the monthly lunch programs, the Section offered a six-hour seminar at its office at 425 University Avenue in Sacramento. The program drew a full house … Continue Reading

California “Parent Custody” Battles Leave Everyone Bruised

Most California trust and estate disputes are emotionally intense, and none more so than sibling conflicts over the care of an aging parent. Like a child custody fight in the family law context, siblings battle over whether Mom will remain in the home where she lives, move in with one of them, or move to … Continue Reading

“Stronger” Now – California Conservatorships Can Provide a Helping Hand to Young Adults

Guest author Karina Stanhope, a Downey Brand associate, contributes today’s post. A recent New York Times article shined new light on Britney Spears’ conservatorship. Well known for her instant rise to stardom as a Disney Mouseketeer, Ms. Spears’ fame as a young, up-and-coming pop star in the 1990s was boundless. Little less than a decade … 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

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
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