Category: Will/Trust Contests

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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) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, 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

When Is a Will Valid in California?

Although much wealth passes today through trusts and beneficiary designations, we occasionally handle California probate disputes that turn on the validity of wills, sometimes involving high value estates. The standard practice in California estate planning is for wills to be typewritten and prepared by attorneys, but those steps are not necessary.  A holographic, i.e., handwritten, … Continue Reading

Take It or Leave It: The Perilous Decision of Whether to Violate a No Contest Clause

One of the most dramatic areas of California trust and estate litigation is no contest clauses.  No contest clauses bring a made-for-tv excitement to the practice of trust and estate law because of the risk of disinheritance.  Yet such clauses are widely misunderstood, even among attorneys.… 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

New Guidance on Role of Mental Health Experts in California Undue Influence Cases

As a trust litigation attorney in Sacramento, I often make or defend against allegations of undue influence in the context of a trust amendment that favors one beneficiary over another. In this setting, what is the proper role of a mental health expert, such as a forensic psychiatrist, with regard to evaluating undue influence? Last … 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

Court in California Trust Contest Invalidates Transfer to Drafting Attorney

  “An ethical estate planning attorney will plan for his client, not for himself.” With those words, the California Court of Appeal recently ripped Southern California attorney John LeBouef for taking advantage “of an elderly and mentally infirm person to enrich himself.”  In Butler v. LeBouef (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 198, the appellate court affirmed 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

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

“You Don’t Have to Be Rich” to Need a Plan

Prince died in April 2016 without a will or trust, according to documents recently filed by his sister in the Carver County District Court in Minnesota. Perhaps a will or trust will surface eventually, as occurred with Michael Jackson’s estate. However, the revelation in “The Morning Papers” that Prince died intestate (legalese for no will … 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

Undue Influence – A Titanic Challenge for Estate Planning Attorneys

Spotting undue influence is no easy task for estate planning attorneys. When Mom wants to change her trust to favor Sally over Johnny, Mom presumably is making her own choice for her own reasons. But it’s also possible that Sally, behind the scenes, is pushing Mom to make the change. An estate planner is like … 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

Opening the Curtains of Attorney-Client Privilege

The attorney-client privilege, a bedrock principle of our legal system, protects confidential communications between clients and their attorneys, and the lawyer’s duty to preserve client confidences generally continues after the death of the client. Under the California Business and Professions Code, lawyers must “maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself or herself … Continue Reading

What Role Should Mental Health Experts Play in Undue Influence Cases?

At the start of trial recently in San Joaquin County Superior Court in Stockton, I sparred with opposing counsel over the role of the retained mental health experts with regard to testimony on undue influence. The contestant alleged that her brother unduly influenced their parents to disfavor her when they amended their trust. Sister retained … 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

An Introduction to Department 129 of Sacramento County Superior Court

This month Judge Steven M. Gevercer will replace Judge David F. De Alba as the probate judge in Department 129 of the Sacramento County Superior Court. Judge Gevercer was appointed to the bench by Governor Jerry Brown in 2012 and previously served in the California Attorney General’s Office. Judges typically spend a year or two … Continue Reading

You May Have to Challenge Mom’s Trust Amendment Before She Dies

Most will and trust contests in California start several months after the death of the person who created the document. Such litigation has a forensic quality: did Mom have sufficient mental capacity back when she signed the will/trust, or was she the victim of undue influence? Mom is not around to testify as to what … Continue Reading
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