Welfare and Institutions Code

Receiving gifts

(Editor’s Note: The post below was published on November 21, 2016.  California law as to undue influence presumptions between spouses changed on January 1, 2020, due to Assembly Bill 327, discussed in a subsequent post.)

When Wife works with her Sacramento estate planning lawyer to favor her Husband over her children from a prior marriage in her trust, does California law presume that Husband exerted undue influence over the Wife to gain a benefit?  Until 2014, most California trust and estate lawyers would answer that question in the negative.  Favoring a current spouse over other potential beneficiaries is a common and natural choice in estate planning.

Yet a California Court of Appeal based in San Jose took the opposite position in Lintz v. Lintz (2014) 222 Cal.App.4th 1346.  The Lintz case casts a shadow over millions of “honey I love you” wills and trusts in the Golden State.  Until the California Legislature or Supreme Court resolves this question, step-children will invoke Lintz in an effort to gain the upper hand over step-parents.  This post will discuss the inconsistency that Lintz recently has created in California law.

Boot Camp_RevisedThe 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 of approximately 80 attendees, ranging from law students to experienced lawyers.

I presented on will and trust contests in California Superior Court and provide highlights from my talk below.

Undue influence is a major theme in trust and estate litigation. But when does advocacy for a change in an estate plan cross the line and become undue?

There is no bright line test for undue influence under California law. Almost always, the proof is indirect. While there is no video of Sister pressuring Mom to disinherit Brother on the drive over to the estate planning lawyer’s office, there may be compelling circumstantial evidence that Sister did just that. All of this leaves much to the discretion and life experience of the judge who decides the dispute.