In Deb’s case (my sister Deborah (Tate) Trotta) – I have had to retain a Florida attorney to achieve Deb’s wishes. Petitions were filed and served last week.
As a general course of action I try to resolve issues and disputes prior to initiating litigation – in that regard I had reached out and communicated, and my attorney also sent a pre-litigation letter to which there was no response. In any event, it has been eight months since Deb’s death – it is obvious that there isn’t going to be any cooperation, which I had been told previously, although I just didn’t comprehend the extent at that time, but I do now.
After the arguments and threats including threats of divorce and Deb’s decision and communication to finally divorce, everything has been controlled and kept including Deb’s ashes, the Tate ancestry and legacy personal property, pictures, jewelry, etc., the information, and all of the property, items and assets.
Deb was clear, for example, and it is admitted, that if Deb died, she wanted her ashes spread at Mt. Tamalpais and the California winery of one of Deb’s best life-long friends. Husband in Florida has controlled, and has refused to provide Deb’s ashes.
It is impossible for me to understand when people refuse even the obvious or basic duties and responsibilities, norms of simple human decency, or a decedent’s wishes including any possible partial closure for Deb and for her family, relatives and close life-long friends.
The post-death actions and inactions confirm and support information that Deb had said and texted about her situation, things that were going on, and the bad relationship and culture.
I personally continued trying to communicate through the end of February, 2022. Communications back to me had actually stopped on September 22, 2021 (just 10 days after Deb’s body was found on September 12), after I requested that I be provided what was said to be Deb’s last text to husband at 5:37 pm Florida time on September 11, 2021 – as possibly one of Deb’s last texts, obviously I wanted to know what she said and what was going on. My request was refused.
But I do have a slightly later text from Deb on September 11, 2021 at 2:46 pm (pacific time, which would have been 5:46 pm Florida time). Deb expressed concern that they apparently had no money as her credit card had been rejected for insufficient funds, she gave money to husband, and if their house was sold, she just wanted to be sure that she received her share and entitlements. Nothing about Deb supposedly going to end her life. Just the opposite in fact.
It is my understanding that Deb’s phone unfortunately also was under husband’s account (which was a mistake). I requested the phone and everything on it, which was denied. And I requested that the phone and everything on it and relating to use of Deb’s phone be preserved. I expect that there will be more about this later.
I have looked at enough of the actual facts and evidence, i.e., not the narrative that was given – I don’t believe that Deb ended her life. And there was no reason for Deb to shoot herself to end her life – instead, Deb had decided and communicated to take back control for herself and Annie. Deb needed to obtain information about and access to the financial assets, investments, accounts and money including what she had had, what she had brought in and what had happened to it, what and how investments had been made and possibly lost, and her entitlements for 20 years of marriage – so that she could act on her options and move with Annie, possibly to Marin, Sonoma, or Napa Counties in California which she loved. Deb also loved San Diego. Deb isn’t the one who handled, controlled, and knew and made decisions about the investments and the primary financial accounts, at least that’s my understanding from what Deb had said.
So to speak, the jury will always be out, as will also causation, and duties and responsibilities. Deb and her situation also offer important learning lessens and learning opportunities, and probably also for a broad range and number of people, relationships, elders, and professionals. These occurrences have also prompted me to put more emphasis on certain of my practice areas including returning to a heavier focus on husband-and-wife relationships; elder and dependent adult abuse; control and possession of information, assets and accounts; persuasion, undue influence, and duress; and related professional duties and best, better or recommended actions and practices including for wealth, investment, FINRA, and financial advisors and planners, and estate planning attorneys.
Unfortunately the Sheriff (and Medical Examiner) were provided a very incomplete, and thus select or misleading narrative, that doesn’t make sense and isn’t supported (based on what they wrote in their Reports). Also unfortunately, there was essentially no critical investigation or evaluation.
There are facts that are verifiable (and additional verifiable facts exist) – the argument the morning of September 11 (per the Sheriff and also admitted) more than 24 hours before a call to me or a call to Deb’s relatives and close friends or a call to the Sheriff about Deb supposedly being missing; the actual wording (per the Sheriff) and interpretation of the supposed note left in Deb’s car on a seat (and with no handwriting analysis); Deb’s wrist contusion (per the Sheriff and Medical Examiner); the abrasions (per the Medical Examiner); Deb’s body being covered in sand (per the Medical Examiner); no evidence of gunpowder stippling on the surrounding skin (per the Medical Examiner); and Deb’s prior communications, texts, pictures, and videos about what was going on, and more. As stated above, so to speak, the jury will always be out.
It took time before I was able to really think about and deal with Deb’s death, and the circumstances and lack of forthcoming information and cooperation. In due course, a loving and respectful-to-Deb obituary was published – prepared with the help of direct family members, cousins in three states, and close life-long friends (I have provided a copy below). Although there was a small, controlled event which was at Deb’s house in Florida – no Tate family members or relatives or life-long friends were invited – I only heard about it because I had reached out to some of Deb’s more recent Florida friends. Deb’s Florida cousins, although already nearby, weren’t even invited. I asked to attend via the internet, such as via Zoom or otherwise, the text that I received in reply was that my request was denied. For many, many years Deb had also been a flight attendant with Delta – she had lived in many different cities across the United States – Deb knew a lot of people.
Pursuant to Florida law, the decedent’s wishes control the disposition of her ashes. I must ask, why would anyone control and deny, and disrespect a decedent and her wishes for the disposition of her ashes?
In California (and I presume elsewhere including in Florida) if weaker or less satisfactory evidence is offered when it is within the power of the person to produce stronger or more satisfactory evidence (e.g., when evidence is hidden, kept secret, or withheld), the evidence that that person offers is viewed with distrust (Cal. Evid. Code Section 412), and in determining the inferences to draw against the withholding party, the trier of fact may consider, among other things, that party’s failure to explain or to deny the facts and the evidence, or his willful suppression of evidence (Cal. Evid. Code Section 413). I am sure that by the time this is over I will know a lot more about Florida law and evidence, although I already know a fair amount. There can also be spousal financial, and personal safety and safeguarding duties and rights – I know more about those as they pertain to California, including spousal fiduciary duties, but they can also exist in Florida. But this post isn’t a discussion of the law.
This situation cannot be allowed to stand. I now understand some of what Deb had been telling me about her situation. On June 5, 2021, Deb texted “If I am suicided, I didn’t do it.” On June 14, 2021, Deb texted pictures of bruises up and down her arms as there had been a physical fight or altercation.
Here is Deb’s obituary:
Thus, I have retained Florida counsel and petitions have now been filed and served. Onward. You can see a few other prior posts about Deb’s situation on this blog, and future updates will also be posted.
More to follow.
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Best to you,
David Tate, Esq. (and inactive CPA)
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David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing as an attorney in California only.