Category: Undue Influence

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California Court Reconciles Ownership Presumptions in Probate Disputes

If Dad bought a house solely in his name, can Stepmother claim a community property interest after Dad has died? Perhaps yes. The answer lies at tricky intersections of California probate law and family law. While family law governs spouses during their lifetimes and upon divorce, the death of one spouse complicates the picture.  It … Continue Reading

Will California SB 315 Improve Revocable Transfer on Death Deeds?

(Editor’s Note: Lauren Murvihill is a summer associate at Downey Brand. She is a student at UC Davis School of Law.) The thrifty do-it-yourselfers among us might jump at the opportunity to transfer their family home to their kids while avoiding probate and the expense of creating a trust.  Revocable Transfer on Death Deeds, or … Continue Reading

Ethics Opinion Guides Lawyers on Counseling Clients with Diminished Capacity

What are the ethical obligations of a California lawyer for a client with diminished mental capacity?  The ethics committee of the State Bar of California answers this key question in draft Formal Opinion No. 13-0002, with public comment due by August 24, 2021. While all lawyers may represent clients who have questionable capacity, the situation … Continue Reading

Britney Spears and “Marla Grayson” May Propel Tightened Oversight Over California Conservators

When a California probate court establishes a conservatorship, the conservator is charged with managing the conservatee’s person and/or estate in the conservatee’s best interests. The large majority of professional fiduciaries and family members who become conservators discharge their duties faithfully. Occasionally, however, a conservator may exploit the relationship for personal gain. Over the past year, … Continue Reading

California Appellate Courts Doubly Divided Over Probate Code Section 859

We blogged recently about Keading v. Keading (2021) 60 Cal.App.5th 1115, which addresses whether a trial court can impose damages under California Probate Code section 859, without a finding of bad faith, if the court finds that a person has taken, concealed or disposed of property by committing elder or dependent adult financial abuse. There … Continue Reading

Is “Bad Faith” Needed for Double Damages Under Probate Code Section 859?

A recent decision from the California Court of Appeal shows a continued split of authority as to the meaning of California Probate Code section 859, which allows doubles damages for the wrongful taking of property under specified circumstances. In Keading v. Keading (2021) 60 Cal.App.5th 1115, the Court of Appeal ruled that a trial court … Continue Reading

Trust on Trial Celebrates a Fifth Anniversary

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 … Continue Reading

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

Clear and Convincing Evidence Standard Continues to Apply in California Appeals

Last week the California Supreme Court used a conservatorship case to clarify how appellate courts should review the sufficiency of evidence when the trial court applied the clear and convincing evidence standard. In Conservatorship of O.B. (2020) 9 Cal.5th 989, the Supreme Court held that “when reviewing a finding that a fact has been proved … Continue Reading

En Garde! A Trust’s Revocation Method May Not Be Enforced Unless It Explicitly States It’s the Exclusive Means of Revocation

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 … Continue Reading

What California Trust and Estate Litigation Will Arise from the Economic Downturn?

The COVID-19 pandemic has idled workers and the coming weeks will bring more news of business closures and bankruptcies.  After a decade of sustained growth, we are facing a recession of uncertain depth and duration.  The New York Times recently reported that some Americans are turning (or perhaps returning) to “financial therapy” for support. In … 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

California Estate Planning Disrupted by COVID-19 Virus and “Social Distancing”

What a difference a few weeks make!  A month ago, the COVID-19 virus was a distant threat.  Over the last few weeks, California courts and law offices have closed, leaving families at home and uncertainty as to when “normal” will return. Colleagues share that COVID-19 has led to a flurry of calls from clients who … 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

Your Slice of the Pizza – Only Directly Inherited Asset Qualifies as Separate Property

(Editor’s Note: The Court of Appeal granted rehearing on December 2, 2019 and later depublished the portion of its opinion discussed below such that it is no longer citable authority in California courts.) It is widely understood in California that inherited assets, unlike assets earned from labor, are the separate property of the receiving spouse.  … 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

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 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

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

California Court Can Apply Impossibility Doctrine

What happens when the settlor (i.e., creator) of a trust imposes a condition precedent on receipt of a distribution from the trust, but the condition cannot be met because the circumstances have changed?  Is the beneficiary out of luck for reasons beyond his or her control? The First District Court of Appeal took up this … 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

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
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