Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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Under the terms of a spendthrift trust established by his parents, Defendant was entitled to receive over one million dollars, all to be paid out of trust principal. Before the trust’s first payment, Defendant filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy trustee sought a declaratory judgment on the extent of the bankruptcy trustee’s interest in the trust. The bankruptcy court concluded that the bankruptcy trustee, standing as a hypothetical lien creditor, could reach twenty-five percent of Defendant’s interest in the trust. The bankruptcy appellate panel affirmed. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit asked the Supreme Court to clarify the relevant provisions of the California Probate Code. The Supreme Court held (1) where a spendthrift trust pays the beneficiary entirely out of principal, the California Probate Code does not limit a bankruptcy estate’s access to the trust to twenty-five percent of the beneficiary’s interest; and (2) with limited exceptions, a general creditor may reach a sum up to the full amount of any distributions that are currently due and payable to the beneficiary even though they are still in the trustee’s hands and separately may reach a sum up to twenty-five percent of any payments that are anticipated to be made to the beneficiary. View "Carmack v. Reynolds" on Justia Law

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The testator in this case prepared a holographic will providing that, if he and his wife died at the same time, specific charities would inherit his estate and providing that his wife would inherit his estate if he predeceased her. The will contained no provision addressing the disposition of the testator’s estate if he lived longer than his wife. The testator’s wife predeceased him. The courts below entered judgment in favor of the heirs at law and against the charities, finding that the testator died intestate. Specifically, the courts excluded extrinsic evidence of the testator’s intent, concluding that the will was unambiguous and failed to provide for the circumstance in which the testator’s wife predeceased him. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that an unambiguous will may be reformed to conform to the testator’s intent if clear and convincing evidence establishes that the will contains a mistake in the expression of the testator’s intent at the time the will was drafted and also establishes the testator’s actual specific intent at the time the will was drafted. Remanded for the trial court’s consideration of extrinsic evidence. View "In re Estate of Duke" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Plaintiff prevailed at trial in an action for financial abuse of an elder or dependent adult. The judgment was affirmed on appeal. After judgment, Plaintiff brought a separate action seeking to prevent or reverse Defendant’s transfer of real property to third persons. Plaintiff subsequently dismissed the fraudulent transfer action pursuant to an agreement with Defendant. Thereafter, Plaintiff moved for costs and attorney fees incurred both on appeal from the elder abuse judgment and in the fraudulent transfer action. The court of appeals concluded that the fees and costs motion was untimely under Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 685.040. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) as to attorney fees on appeal from the elder abuse judgment, the motion was not subject to section 685.080 because Plaintiff’s efforts in opposing Defendant’s appeal were not undertaken to enforce the judgment but to defend it against reversal or modification; and (2) Plaintiff’s motion was untimely as to fees incurred enforcing the judgment through the separate fraudulent transfer action because the fees incurred in that action could only be recovered under section 685.040. View "In re Conservatorship of McQueen" on Justia Law

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A trust and an amendment to the trust both contained no contest clauses. In 2009, two of the trust’s beneficiaries filed a safe harbor proceeding seeking a determination that the petition they proposed to file challenging trustee conduct would not trigger the no contest clauses of the trust’s amendment. The probate court concluded the proposed petition did not constitute a contest. At issue on appeal was whether the no contest clause law that became operative in 2010, while the beneficiaries’ application was pending, or the no contest clause law in effect at the time the beneficiaries filed their application applied to the beneficiaries’ proposed petition. The court of appeal held (1) the former no contest law applied, and (2) the beneficiaries’ challenge constituted a contest. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) safe harbor proceedings filed before 2010 were not affected by the repeal of the former law, which previously authorized safe harbor applications, and therefore, the probate court correctly ruled on the beneficiaries’ application; (2) the current law governed the question of whether the beneficiaries’ proposed claims triggered the no contest clauses; and (3) under the current law, the no contest clauses in the amended trust were unenforceable against the beneficiaries’ proposed petition. View "Donkin v. Donkin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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This case involved a revocable trust. After the settlor died, the beneficiaries sued the trustee for breach of the fiduciary duty committed while the settlor was still alive and the trust was still revocable rather than irrevocable. The trial court ruled in favor of the beneficiaries, finding that the trustee had violated his duty in various respects. The court of appeal reversed, holding that the beneficiaries did not have standing to maintain claims for breach of fiduciary duty against the trustee, as the trustee's duties were owed solely to the settlor during the settlor's lifetime and not to the trust beneficiaries. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because a trustee's breach of the fiduciary duty owed to the settlor can substantially harm the beneficiaries by reducing the trust's value against the settlor's wishes, the beneficiaries do have standing to sue for a breach of that duty after the settlor has died. View "Giraldin v. Giraldin" on Justia Law