Category: Will/Trust Interpretation

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Showdown at the O.K. Corral – The Battle of the Omitted Heirs

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 … 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

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

California Powers of Appointment: Follow Instructions When Exercising

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 … Continue Reading

Don’t Rely on a Post-It® Note to Amend Your California Trust

A key feature of a California revocable trust is that it can be amended.  Revising a trust can, however, seem like an irksome chore so it’s common for creators of trusts (i.e., “settlors” or “trustors”) to shrug off an amendment until it becomes clear they have limited time to settle their affairs. Such procrastination invites … Continue Reading

Probate Code Provides Ground Rules for Who Gets What from Wills and Trusts

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 … Continue Reading

Trustees Must Terminate California Trust if Terms Compel Distribution

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 … 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

California Courts Interpret Ambiguous Trust Documents by Stepping Into Creator’s Shoes

Guest author Karina Stanhope, a former Downey Brand associate, contributes today’s post. Trust documents should be customized to serve the estate planning objectives of those who create them. While Parent One may want all of her assets to be distributed in equal shares to her children, Parent Two may want to exclude a child from … Continue Reading

Fund Your California Trust Now to Avoid the “Lost and Found” Later

A trust is a vehicle for managing and disposing of property. Just as you don’t want to leave your suitcase on the beach when you return from vacation, you should ensure that your assets are securely loaded into the trust you have created. If you don’t, your assets may end up held in the legal … 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

Put Up Your Dukes: Courts Can Fix Mistakes in Wills … Sometimes

Sound estate planning requires a clear description of how property will pass upon death – in other words, who gets what. So what happens when the written terms differ from what the will’s creator actually wanted? Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court ruled in Estate of Duke (2015) 61 Cal.4th 871 that courts may … Continue Reading
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