In Bruno v. Hopkins (2022) 79 Cal.App.5th 801, the California Court of Appeal broke new ground by finding that a beneficiary who
Narcotics Anonymous established a revocable trust to manage its literature and other intellectual property assets for the benefit of its many members. A “regional delegate group” filed a petition in Los Angeles probate court claiming that the trustee was breaching its fiduciary duties.
The California Court of Appeal, in Autonomous Region of Narcotics Anonymous v. …
California trust disputes often involve allegations that trustees should be removed and suspended because they are acting improperly or have conflicts of interest.
We’ve written about how co-trustee conflict fuels California trust litigation and the problem seems to be growing. Trust administration grinds to a halt because a co-trustee (or two or three) is hostile, stubborn, self-serving and/or apathetic. While trusts are supposed to provide a streamlined alternative to a court-supervised probate proceeding, the efficiency may be is…
Many family member trustees are uncertain about whether and to what extent they can use trust assets to obtain legal representation. For example, when two parents choose their daughter, upon their incapacity or death, to administer their trust as the successor trustee, the daughter may be unsure whether she can use trust money to hire…
We started Trust on Trial with a post on undue influence in November 2015 and now mark the blog’s fifth anniversary. We thank readers of our “five cents” for their feedback, reflect on where we’ve been, and look towards the future.
Focused on California trust and estate litigation, and dispute avoidance, we have published 127…
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 happens when the Attorney General is only partially successful in its case against the defending trustee of a charitable trust?
People ex rel. Becerra v. Shine (2020) ____ Cal.App.5th ____ provides the answer. The Government Code does not require a stringent analysis of whether the Attorney General has achieved all of its litigation goals or has been completely successful on every claim. Further, the Attorney General is entitled to attorney’s fees when it has generally accomplished what it set out to do, which in People v. Shine was to prove that Shine had breached his fiduciary duties and to recover funds for the trust.
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 and estate litigators can be described as “sibling lawyers.”
A recent appellate opinion illustrates such co-trustee conflict and shows the unpredictability of our judicial process. In Trolan v. Trolan (2019) 31 Cal.App.5th 939, the California Court of Appeal addressed issues of trust interpretation and trustee removal in a situation where five siblings were aligned against the sixth.
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 1026, the Court of Appeal found that a clause in a trust instrument expressly allowing a trustee to withhold attorney-client communications violates public policy and is unenforceable. California estate planning attorneys take note: there is no way to draft around the rule that the attorney-client privilege stays with the office of trustee.
One challenge that California trustees face is the prospect that confidential attorney-client communications will pass to successor trustees if they resign or are removed from office. The attorney-client privilege belongs to the client, but the client is the office of the trustee, not the incumbent who holds that office. Hence, the successor trustee generally gets to see the privileged communications of the predecessor, as the California Supreme Court explained in Moeller v. Superior Court (1997) 16 Cal.4th 1124.
A new opinion from the Court of Appeal, Fiduciary Trust International of California v. Klein (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 1184, further shows the insecure nature of the attorney-client privilege in the context of California trust administration and may lead successor trustees to be more aggressive in seeking privileged communications of former trustees.