Siblings arguingMost 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 an assisted living facility. They fight over who will manage Mom’s finances and interact with her doctors.

California courts have the tools to resolve these disputes, but struggle to evaluate competing claims of siblings and have a limited attention span to parse through them. Very often, when siblings cannot find middle ground, Mom’s care and finances will end up in the hands of a third party conservator and trustee, after many thousands of dollars in legal fees.

CrownPrince 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 or trust) provides an occasion to muse on the “Controversy” that can erupt in California courts when a person of even moderate means lacks an estate plan, while recalling several song titles along the way.

Alzheimer's Word Cloud_RevisedFor 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 her husband and other family members, friends, and participants in support groups.

Although the article does not discuss any conflict over Ms. Taylor’s finances or estate plan, the vivid descriptions of her experience with Alzheimer’s disease illuminate the complexity of its effects on mental function. When an elder with Alzheimer’s disease makes a controversial estate planning change, the variable impact of the disease leads to challenges in assessing the elder’s mental capacity and vulnerability to undue influence, and thus substantial uncertainty in the outcome of a trust contest, will contest, financial elder abuse claim or contested conservatorship.