What a Catch! California Courts Can Adjudicate Claims Against Nonresident Trustees

What court should hear a dispute over a California trust?  I briefed this question last month when a judge questioned if a case should instead be adjudicated in neighboring states.  Such jurisdiction issues come up occasionally given the mobility of family members with interests in trusts.

A recent appellate case, Van Buskirk v. Van Buskirk (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 523, shows the “long arm” jurisdictional reach of California courts in trust litigation.  California courts may leap, catch and decide disputes even when nonresident parties would prefer to litigate elsewhere. Continue Reading

When Do California Trust and Estate Cases Have Preference in Trial Setting or Appeal?

Getting a civil or probate case to trial in California can take a long time.  The pandemic has backed up many courts given that criminal and civil trials starting in March 2020 were postponed.  While most California trust and estate disputes do not require juries, a multi-day court trial remains a challenge in a pandemic world.  If done virtually, how will witnesses testify and how will exhibits be handled?

The impact of the pandemic on the time to resolve California appeals is harder to read, but courts may be more lenient with extensions of time to file briefs and court personnel who review cases (like the rest of us) may be distracted by Zoom schooling their children.  The time it takes a California Court of Appeal to process a civil or probate case turns on many factors including composition of the three-justice panel to which the appeal is assigned.

When can you jump the line?  Now, more than ever, California trust and estate litigants should be aware of any statutory preferences they may have to get their cases decided sooner. 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 posts since our launch.  Our posts are hosted on the LexBlog publishing platform and published on JD Supra, where we recently received a Top Author award.  This year, the University of California’s CEB program, a leading provider of continuing legal education, began to feature our posts on its website.

Most readers find our posts through organic search – that is, by entering search terms in Google or another search engine.  Google Analytics helps us track what posts draw readers to our blog. Continue Reading

Who Gets the Tahoe House and Other California Real Estate Inheritance Disputes

Many California trust and estate disputes involve the allocation of real estate amongst several beneficiaries.  Mom and Dad, may they rest in peace, owned an upscale home in the Fab 40s neighborhood of East Sacramento, a sweet Tahoe vacation home, and a few rental duplexes, but did not specify how these assets were to be split between their children.  The daughter and/or son tapped to serve as successor trustee has to sort it out.

A trustee in California commonly has discretion to sell real property (the legal term for “real estate”), distribute it out to all beneficiaries in equal shares, or allocate it to one or more of them.  The beneficiaries, however, can object to the proposed distribution.  Trust and probate administration can grind to a bickering and litigious halt.  How do such conflicts over real property distribution unfold? Continue Reading

SB 1146 Facilitates Remote Depositions and Electronic Service, But Leaves Challenges in California Trust and Estate Litigation

As we enter the eighth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, California courts and litigants continue to grapple with how to move civil cases forward.

Senate Bill 1146, approved by Governor Newsom on September 18, 2020, and effective immediately, facilitates the taking of depositions by allowing court reporters to attend remotely and enables electronic service of papers as to represented parties.  While these reforms are helpful, SB 1146 leaves challenges that may be heightened in trust and estate litigation. 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 to trial judges and lawyers about what evidence is sufficient to sustain such claims.

In Gomez v. Smith (2020) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento considered a ruling by a Shasta County Superior Court judge.  The judge concluded that the plaintiff should receive the benefit of a trust instrument that her late husband wanted to execute because two of his children precluded him from meeting with his lawyer to sign it.  We have written previously of conflicts between stepmothers and stepchildren – this is just such a tale with its own dramatic twists. 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 operators of senior living facilities.  Even if a son or daughter has court papers establishing his or her appointment as conservator of mother’s person, the son or daughter may not be able to bind mother to an arbitration agreement that is included in the admissions paperwork. Continue Reading

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 include them?  In the trust and estate world, these children are often referred to as “omitted heirs.”

While Probate Code sections 21620-21623 generally provide answers to these questions, how they apply in real life is not always clear.  Thankfully, the California Court of Appeal recently provided a real world example of how these rules work in Rallo v. O’Brian (2020) 52 Cal.App.5th 997.  The case involved the trust of Hugh O’Brian, an actor famous for playing Wyatt Earp in the television series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, which ran from 1955-1961.

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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 conservatorship investigated and terminated.  A Change.org petition dedicated to the #FreeBritney movement amassed over 100,000 signatures.

#FreeBritney believers may have finally reached the Princess of Pop herself.  According to a recent New York Times article, Britney’s attorney filed papers informing the Los Angeles County Superior Court that Britney is now “strongly opposed” to the conservatorship.  This serves as a good reminder that all conservatees have the power to challenge their conservatorships. 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 by clear and convincing evidence, the question before the appellate court is whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could have found it highly probable that the fact was true.”  In other words, the high bar of clear and convincing evidence continues to be the standard on appeal.

The clear and convincing evidence standard applies to quite a few categories of California trust and estate disputes.  Conservatorship of O.B. seems to invite closer appellate review of trial court decisions and thus could lead to more appeals and perhaps even greater success on appeal. Continue Reading