Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Defendant was a beneficiary and trustee of a family trust. In 2018, Defendant provided Plaintiff, Defendant's daughter, and the other remainder beneficiaries with a notice stating: "[y]ou may not bring an action to contest the Trust more than 120 days from the date this notification by the trustee is served upon you." Approximately 230 days after Plaintiff received this notice, she filed a petition seeking to invalidate a previous amendment to the trust. Defendant, citing a no-contest clause contained in the trust instrument, claimed that Plaintiff's litigation resulted in her disinheritance. The trial court agreed and Plaintiff appealed.On appeal, the Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court. The court rejected Plaintiff's claim that untimely litigation does not constitute a "direct contest without probable cause." More specifically, Plaintiff argued that the fact her litigation was untimely does not automatically render it unsupported by probable cause, and that the court should review the merits of her challenge. The court explained that Plaintiff's litigation was a "direct contest" and that, solely because it was untimely, it lacked probable cause. View "Meiri v. Shamtoubi" on Justia Law

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After Royals’ father, Adams, died at age 99, Royals became the successor trustee and sole beneficiary of the Adams Trust. Lu, Adams’s second wife, was 59 years old when she married Adams, then 95. Royals alleged that Adams intended to leave none of his assets to Lu. Lu claims Adams intended to provide for her support by depositing certain funds in certain accounts under Lu’s control outside of the Trust. A pretrial right to attach order was issued against Lu under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (Welf. & Inst. Code 15600).The court of appeal reversed. The prospect of punitive recovery on a financial elder abuse claim (exemplary damages or statutory penalties) may not be secured by the extraordinary remedy of pretrial attachment. A financial elder abuse claimant may obtain an attachment for potential compensatory damages and an award of attorney fees and costs associated with those damages only if the request for it complies with all applicable provisions of the statutory scheme governing pretrial attachments (Code Civ. Proc. 481.010). Royals’s attachment application did not comply with four provisions of the Attachment Law. Royals failed to support her prayer for compensatory damages with competent evidence; to the extent she sought an attachment for prospective recovery of punitive damages and statutory penalties in addition to compensatory damages, her attachment request also failed to comply with the attachable amount, attachable claim, and claimed indebtedness requirements. View "Royals v. Lu" on Justia Law

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The Second Appellate District resolved three appeals, referred to as the 270 Action and the other as 475 Action.   In the 270 Action, the trial court sustained special motions to strike Plaintiff’s complaint against Defendant and her counsel, pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, subdivision (b)(1)1 (i.e., anti-SLAPP motions). The trial court further awarded Defendant and her attorney fees and costs pursuant to section 425.16, subdivision (c)(1). The first 270 Appeal (No. B308337) is of the trial court’s judgment following its order on the anti-SLAPP motions. The Second Appellate District agreed with the trial court that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate a probability of prevailing on the merits in the 270 Action because, under the circumstances presented, he lacked standing to bring a malicious prosecution claim with respect to an action that had not been prosecuted against him. The court, therefore, affirmed the trial court’s judgment.   The 475 Appeal (No. B307242) is of an order entered by the probate court dismissing Defendant’s creditor’s petition for a finder’s fee in the 475 Action. This order was rendered primarily on a misapplication of the doctrine of issue preclusion. The Second Appellate District reversed this order and remanded to the probate court for further proceedings. By their cross-appeal, Plaintiff and his attorney appeal an order directing the attorney to pay expenses for repeated violations of the probate court’s page limit rules. The Second Appellate District found that the probate court acted within its authority in directing such payment and therefore affirm View "Tukes v. Richard CA2/" on Justia Law

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Lynne filed suit against her mother, individually and as trustee of a family trust, and her sisters (collectively Respondents), alleging that they forged trust instruments purporting to divide her parents’ estate upon the death of her father. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the Respondents after determining the trust instruments were not forgeries. On Respondents’ motion for attorneys’ fees, the trial court ordered Lynne to pay over $829,000, finding there was no merit to the position Lynne pursued at the trial, and that Lynne “acted without basis in filing any of her claims.” In addition, the court ordered Lynne to pay over $96,000 in costs.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Lynne’s arguments that the trial court’s jurisdiction was limited to the property of the trust estate, such that she could not be personally liable for any amount of attorneys’ fees over and above her interest in the trust and that because she had a reasonable and good faith belief in the merits of her claim, there was insufficient evidence to support the issuance of the fee award. View "Bruno v. Hopkins" on Justia Law

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Daniel Hsu (Daniel) asked the Court of Appeal to reverse the trial court’s decision denying him need-based attorney fees under California Family Code section 2030. This case was a marriage dissolution proceeding between Daniel and Christine Nakamoto (Christine; together, the spouses). But the dispute at issue was between Daniel and his two siblings, Charleson Hsu (Chau) and Melissa Hsu See (Melissa). After their parents passed away, Daniel claimed Chau was concealing a portion of his inheritance. The siblings met to discuss Daniel’s claims and reached an agreement at the meeting, which Daniel documented on a two-page handwritten memorandum. Among other things, the Handwritten Agreement stated Daniel was to be paid $4 million. Several months later, the three siblings executed a formal Compromise Agreement for Structured Settlement. The Compromise Agreement contained many of the terms set forth in the Handwritten Agreement but did not mention the $4 million payment. The spouses claimed Daniel was never paid the $4 million, which would have been a community asset, and that it was still owed to Daniel under the Handwritten Agreement. Chau and Melissa argued the Handwritten Agreement was not a binding contract and that Daniel had already been paid $4 million through a separate transaction outside the Compromise Agreement. Chau, Melissa, and several business entities they owned (together, claimants) were involuntarily joined to this dissolution proceeding to settle this dispute. At trial, the primary question facing the lower court was whether the Handwritten Agreement or the Compromise Agreement was the enforceable contract. The court found in favor of claimants, ruling the Compromise Agreement was enforceable while the Handwritten Agreement was not. Meanwhile, over the course of Daniel’s litigation against claimants, the court awarded him $140,000 in attorney fees under section 2030. After the court issued a tentative ruling finding the Handwritten Agreement was not enforceable, Daniel requested an additional $50,000 for attorney fees incurred during trial plus another $30,000 to appeal. The court denied his request. The Court of Appeal found no error in the attorney fees ruling. View "Marriage of Nakamoto and Hsu" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed a probate court’s order denying Plaintiffs' Petition for Recovery of Property under Probate Code section 850 and sustaining objections thereto by Defendant; denying Plaintiff’s Petition for Letters of Administration; and granting Defendant’s Petition for Probate of Will.   At issue is whether a mediation settlement agreement (“MSA”) that Defendant and his now-deceased wife entered into after separation and in anticipation of the dissolution of their marriage is a “complete property settlement” within the meaning of section 145, which operates as a statutory waiver of certain of Defendant’s rights as a surviving spouse enumerated in section 141, including the right to inherit from his deceased wife and to be appointed as the personal representative of her estate.   The Second Appellate reversed the probate court’s order and held that the MSA did effect a waiver of Defendant’s rights of a surviving spouse enumerated in section 141. The court reasoned that based on its independent review of the MSA and the undisputed record evidence, the written MSA signed by Defendant and his wife, each with the advice of counsel, constituted a “complete property settlement” within the meaning of section 145. Further, the MSA is an enforceable waiver of his rights as a surviving spouse, as Defendant failed to point to any evidence he was not provided with “[a] fair and reasonable disclosure of the property or financial obligations” of his wife prior to signing the MSA, as required by section 143, subdivision (a). View "Welch v. Welch" on Justia Law

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Brandy filed a probate petition seeking to be appointed the personal representative of her late husband’s (Scott) estate. The trial court denied her petition based on a premarital agreement that waived Brandy’s interests in her husband’s separate property. The court named his parents as co-administrators of the estate. The court of appeal held Brandy was entitled to introduce extrinsic evidence in support of her argument that she and her late husband mistakenly believed the premarital agreement would apply only in the event of divorce, rather than upon death. On remand, the trial court found that the mistake was a unilateral mistake on Brandy’s part and that she was not entitled to rescission. The court expressly found “there was insufficient evidence that Scott encouraged or fostered Brandy’s mistaken belief.”The court of appeal affirmed. Because Brandy failed to read the agreement and meet with her attorney to discuss it before signing it, she bore the risk of her mistake and is not entitled to rescission. View "Estate of Eskra" on Justia Law

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A charitable trust controls the intellectual property of Narcotics Anonymous. This trust is revocable. A group called the Autonomous Region of Narcotics Anonymous alleged the trustee breached its fiduciary duties. Plaintiffs argued that a Probate Code section confers standing on entities with the power to revoke a trust. Plaintiffs claimed that Autonomous Region is a settlor with that power and that they have special interest standing. The probate court sustained a demurrer without leave to amend finding Autonomous Region lacked standing.   The Second Appellate District affirmed, finding that the probate court properly concluded leave to amend would have been futile. The court held that the trust document does not confer standing, reasoning that the document defines the settlor as an amorphous group—the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous—that acts through delegates who represent groups within the Fellowship. Here, because Autonomous Region is not the settlor, its first theory failed.Second, the “special interest” standing doctrine does not extend to revocable trusts because the settlors of those trusts have elected to retain the power of revocation and hence the oversight this doctrine aims to supply.   Finally, Autonomous Region contends it should have been allowed to add facts supporting its interpretation that the trust confers standing on any regional delegate group. However, the court t held that the lower court’s s interpretation of the trust was correct. View "Autonomous Region of Narcotics Anon v. Narcotics Anon World Svcs" on Justia Law

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This case was one of many "disagreements" about the control of the multi-million-dollar estate of Thomas Tedesco. Plaintiff-respondent Laura White was one of Thomas’s three biological daughters and a cotrustee of his living trust. Defendant-appellant Debra Wear (aka Debbie Basara Wear) was one of Thomas’s stepdaughters. In 2013, Thomas suffered serious health issues, which resulted in significant cognitive impairment, leaving him susceptible to being unduly influenced by anyone close to him. Gloria Tedesco, Thomas’s second wife, began denying White and her sisters access to their father, causing him to believe that they were stealing from him. Wear assisted Gloria, her mother, in unduly influencing Thomas via contacting, or facilitating access to, attorneys in order to change Thomas’s estate plan to disinherit his biological family in favor of Gloria and her family. In 2015, a permanent conservator of Thomas’s estate was appointed. Despite the existence of the conservatorship, Wear continued to assist Gloria in taking actions to unduly influence Thomas to change his 30-plus-year estate plan. Consequently, upon White’s petition, the superior court issued an elder abuse restraining order (EARO), restraining Wear for three years from, among other things, financially abusing Thomas, contacting him (either directly or indirectly), facilitating any change to his estate plan, coming within 100 yards of him, and possessing any guns, other firearms, and ammunition. Wear contended the EARO was void because: (1) the judge was disqualified; and (2) he violated due process by substantially amending the allegations in the petition and prohibiting her from possessing firearms and ammunition. She further claimed the petition failed to state a cause of action for elder financial abuse. The Court of Appeal agreed the court erred in including a firearms and ammunition restriction in the EARO and directed the trial court to strike it. Otherwise, the Court affirmed. View "White v. Wear" on Justia Law

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The co-trustees and a beneficiary of the trust filed petitions under Probate Code section 850 alleging that defendant misappropriated trust assets and committed elder abuse against the trustor. The litigants settled and the guardian ad litem for defendant's minor children entered into an agreement with the co-trustees and certain trust beneficiaries, but not defendant (the first GAL agreement). Defendant and the children subsequently challenge the trial court's orders (1) enforcing the oral settlement agreement; (2) granting the GAL's petition to approve the second GAL agreement; (3) appointing the GAL as the children's guardian ad litem in certain probate cases; and (4) denying defendant's motion to remove the GAL as the children's guardian ad litem.In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's orders and concluded that defendant failed to establish procedural and substantive unconscionability. The court rejected the argument that the GAL lacked capacity to make a contract in Jacqueline's name. The court also concluded that the trial court did not err by determining that defendant is precluded from repudiating the agreement because her objection is inconsistent with the children's interests. Furthermore, the court rejected the children's contention that they disaffirmed the settlement agreement and the second GAL agreement when they filed their repudiations of the agreements. Finally, the court concluded that there was no conflict of interest and thus no error in denying defendant's motion to remove the GAL as guardian ad litem. View "Chui v. Chui" on Justia Law