Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Decedent and objector were married for 32 years. Petitioners are decedent’s sons from a prior relationship. In 1993, decedent and objector secured a joint term life insurance policy, naming objector as the primary beneficiary, with petitioners as contingent beneficiaries. In 2013, decedent executed a will. A 2014 final judgment dissolved decedent’s marriage to objector, awarding decedent full ownership of the Policy. In 2016, decedent executed a handwritten codicil, stating that he did not want objector “inheriting anything from [him] under any circumstances by beneficiary designation or otherwise.” At the time of his death, objector remained as the primary beneficiary of the Policy. Petitioners sought to be designated as the rightful beneficiaries of the Policy under Probate Code sections 50401 and 9611. The probate court ordered payment to the petitioners. The court of appeal reversed. The jurisdiction of the probate court may not be invoked where the only relevant alleged assets of the estate are alleged to be the proceeds of a life insurance policy, the beneficiary of which is not the estate. View "Estate of Post" on Justia Law

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The trust instrument at issue in this appeal purported to allow the former trustee to withhold from a successor trustee all of his or her communications with legal counsel. Consistent with statute and case law, the Court of Appeal held a trust may not allow a former trustee to withhold from a successor trustee all communications between that former trustee and the trust’s legal counsel. The attorney-client privilege vests in the office of the trustee, not in any particular person. A provision permitting a trustee to withhold documents from a successor trustee violates public policy and is unenforceable. Allowing a former trustee to withhold from a successor trustee communications with the trust’s former legal counsel would permit a trustee to intentionally (or with gross negligence or reckless indifference) violate duties with no check on his or her conduct. The trial court ordered the former trustee to turn over specified communications with the trust’s former legal counsel to the successor trustees and their current legal counsel. The former trustee sought a writ of mandate to reverse the trial court’s order. The Court of Appeal denied the petition. View "Morgan v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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A successor trustee filed suit against defendants, alleging claims arising from an allegedly void assignment of a deed of trust on certain real property and a failed short sale agreement. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court properly sustained the demurrers to all causes of action, but abused its discretion in denying leave to amend. In this case, the trustee has proposed facts sufficient to show that the assignment at issue was void. Accordingly, the court reversed and directed the trial court to grant the trustee leave to amend the complaint. View "Hacker v. Homeward Residential, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case, a trustee sold at foreclosure property once owned by a convicted fraudster and there were surplus proceeds. The trial court concluded that the lis pendens was inadequate to give the County any interest in the property because the criminal court had ordered restitution but had not ordered the property levied upon to satisfy the restitution award. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's award of the surplus proceeds to the trusts. The court held that the County had no interest in the property as it was not seized and, on their own, the lis pendens and temporary restraining order did not mandate a different result. View "Integrated Lender Services v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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In this case, a trustee sold at foreclosure property once owned by a convicted fraudster and there were surplus proceeds. The trial court concluded that the lis pendens was inadequate to give the County any interest in the property because the criminal court had ordered restitution but had not ordered the property levied upon to satisfy the restitution award. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's award of the surplus proceeds to the trusts. The court held that the County had no interest in the property as it was not seized and, on their own, the lis pendens and temporary restraining order did not mandate a different result. View "Integrated Lender Services v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Emerita Cruz Joya appealed a probate court order approving the final accounting and settling the estate of Norman Casserley (Decedent). Joya had filed a creditor's claim against Decedent's estate based on a criminal restitution order entered in her husband's favor, which was recorded after Decedent's death. The court rejected Joya's argument that her claim was entitled to priority either as a recorded lien or under the state Constitution's restitution provision. The Court of Appeal found no reversible error in the probate court’s rejection of Joya’s claim, and affirmed. View "Estate of Casserley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff unsuccessfully sued Bartsch’s estate, claiming to be Bartsch’s son, unintentionally omitted from his father’s will. The court of appeal upheld a finding that Bartsch was aware of plaintiff’s existence when he executed his will, having reluctantly made court-ordered child support payments to plaintiff’s mother for many years. Plaintiff separately sued the attorney who represented the executor and the executor, alleging intentional fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, and fraudulent concealment, because the defendants stated under penalty of perjury that decedent had no children when they filed the probate petition, did not serve notice of their petition on plaintiff, and “willfully failed to inform the Court [that plaintiff was Bartsch’s son], depriving plaintiff of the opportunity to assert a claim. He also alleged that the way defendants stated the petition’s allegations made him believe that decedent “was not aware that he had a son or had forgotten it,” leading him to incur significant legal fees. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Plaintiff could not establish any damages because it was established that he had no interest in Bartsch’s estate. His claims are based entirely on the defendants' representations in connection with the probate proceeding and are, therefore, barred by the litigation privilege, Civil Code 47(b). View "Herterich v. Peltner" on Justia Law

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Appellant James Bulen (James) and respondents (the Gaynor beneficiaries) were extended family members who were cobeneficiaries of a trust (Trust) created by their grandfather or great-grandfather (Grandfather). Years after Grandfather's death, these individuals and others engaged in contentious disputes over the management and control of the Trust. After the probate court resolved these disputes, the Gaynor beneficiaries filed a surcharge petition against the cotrustees, and later added James as a respondent based on his alleged de facto trustee status. The Gaynor beneficiaries alleged that James and the cotrustees wrongfully withdrew trust assets and then used these assets to file and defend probate petitions in attempting to persuade the probate court to adopt their management plan. The Gaynor beneficiaries sought reimbursement of all funds improperly withdrawn from the Trust. Focusing on the paragraphs of the surcharge petition related to the prior probate litigation, James moved to strike the claims against him under California's anti-SLAPP statute. The probate court found the claims were not governed by the anti-SLAPP statute and denied the motion. James appeals. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Gaynor v. Bulen" on Justia Law

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Probate Code section 11704 requires an executor to obtain court permission before taking sides in a proceeding to determine who is entitled to a distribution of estate assets. Section 11704 does not mandate neutrality or prohibit an executor from advocating in favor of one beneficiary over another. Rather, it entrusts probate courts with policing whether and to what extent participation in probate proceedings should be permitted in light of the dangers of self-interested involvement and other factors relevant to good cause. In this case, the probate court properly discharged this statutory responsibility in permitting the executor to oppose the omitted spouse petition. The court affirmed the probate court's order granting the executor's petition to oppose the petition filed by plaintiff. View "Estate of Kerkorian" on Justia Law

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Husband Patrick Steiner was an active duty military service member and had a group life insurance policy issued under the Servicemen's Group Life Insurance Act of 1965 (the SGLIA). As part of a status-only dissolution judgment, Husband and Alicja Soczewko Steiner (Wife), stipulated to an order requiring Husband to maintain Wife as the beneficiary of all of Husband's current active duty survivor and/or death benefits pending further court order. Notwithstanding the stipulated order, Husband changed the beneficiary of his life insurance policy to Husband's sister, Mary Furman, who received the policy proceeds upon Husband's death. The court subsequently found applicable federal law preempted the stipulated order and Furman was entitled to the policy proceeds. Wife appealed, contending federal law did not preempt the stipulated order or, alternatively, the fraud exception to federal preemption applies. The Court of Appeal concluded to the contrary on both points and affirmed the order. View "Marriage of Steiner" on Justia Law