California’s Statutory Undue Influence

California Welfare & Institutions Code §15610.70 provides a statutory definition of undue influence. Although §15610.70 falls under California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, pursuant to California Probate Code §86 the §15610.70 definition applies to the entire Probate Code, but also doesn’t replace common law undue influence: “’Undue influence’” has the same meaning as defined in Section 15610.70 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. It is the intent of the Legislature that this section supplement the common law meaning of undue influence without superseding or interfering with the operation of that law.”

It is yet to be seen whether the §15610.70 statutory definition of undue influence is easier to present than the common law body of case law. Consideration should also be given to whether there are per se violation possibilities and instructions.

Welfare and Institutions Code §15610.70 provides:

15610.70.  (a) “Undue influence” means excessive persuasion that causes another person to act or refrain from acting by overcoming that person’s free will and results in inequity. In determining whether a result was produced by undue influence, all of the following shall be considered:

(1) The vulnerability of the victim. Evidence of vulnerability may include, but is not limited to, incapacity, illness, disability, injury, age, education, impaired cognitive function, emotional distress, isolation, or dependency, and whether the influencer knew or should have known of the alleged victim’s vulnerability.

(2) The influencer’s apparent authority. Evidence of apparent authority may include, but is not limited to, status as a fiduciary, family member, care provider, health care professional, legal professional, spiritual adviser, expert, or other qualification.

(3) The actions or tactics used by the influencer. Evidence of actions or tactics used may include, but is not limited to, all of the following:

(A) Controlling necessaries of life, medication, the victim’s interactions with others, access to information, or sleep.

(B) Use of affection, intimidation, or coercion.

(C) Initiation of changes in personal or property rights, use of haste or secrecy in effecting those changes, effecting changes at inappropriate times and places, and claims of expertise in effecting changes.

(4) The equity of the result. Evidence of the equity of the result may include, but is not limited to, the economic consequences to the victim, any divergence from the victim’s prior intent or course of conduct or dealing, the relationship of the value conveyed to the value of any services or consideration received, or the appropriateness of the change in light of the length and nature of the relationship.

(b) Evidence of an inequitable result, without more, is not sufficient to prove undue influence.

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California Trustee Investment And Management Responsibilities (Part 1 of 2)

(Part 1 of 2)

This is part one of two discussions about California trustee investment and management responsibilities. This is a complicated topic. Each situation needs to be evaluated on its own. Most likely no two situations are the same. You should consult legal counsel.

The trustee has the duty to invest trust property for the benefit of the beneficiaries, subject to restrictions or limitations stated in the trust. The trustee’s investment powers are provided by the terms of the trust. Always read the complete terms of the trust first. If not derived from the trust, the investment powers are also derived by statute, case law and the factual circumstances. You can refer to Probate Code §§16200(a) and (b) and 16047. Generally, the trustee has the duty to make trust assets economically productive.

The trustee is subject to the Uniform Prudent Investor Act, unless the trust provides for a greater or lesser standard of care. You can refer to Probate Code §§16045 through 16054. The trustee should carefully read the trust terms and the Uniform Prudent Investor Act.

A trustee should invest and manage the trust assets as a prudent investor would, by considering the purposes, terms, distribution requirements, and other circumstances of the trust. The trustee should exercise reasonable care, skill, and caution.

A trustee’s investment and management decisions relating to individual assets and courses of action are evaluated in the context of the trust’s portfolio as a whole and as a part of an overall investment strategy reasonably suited to the trust’s risk and return objectives.

Pursuant to Probate Code §16047 the trustee should or may consider such matters as economic conditions, inflation or deflation, tax consequences, the role of each investment or action within the overall trust portfolio, the expected rate of return from income and appreciation, other financial resources of the beneficiaries known to the trustee, needs for liquidity, regularity of income, preservation and appreciation of principal, and asset special value or relationship to the purpose of the trust or the beneficiaries.

The trustee should locate and take possession of the trust assets, and develop an investment strategy suited to the purpose of the trust. You can refer to Probate Code §§16006 and 16049.

Part two contains the remaining discussion and will be posted shortly.

Thanks for reading. Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco / California –

Donations to Hospital and Allegations of Coercion and Contested Will

The following is a link to an interesting New York Times article dated May 29, 2013, Huguette Clark’s will and estate, and allegations that she was coerced by the hospital where she had been staying for the last 20 years of her lift to donate money and assets to the hospital and to leave the hospital $1 million in her will.  Click here for article.

My initial thoughts, based on the information provided by the article.  The article does refer to information provided in papers that have been filed with the court, and of course we don’t have those papers which presumably do contain significant information that will be admissible as evidence at the scheduled September trial.  Ms. Clark was extremely wealth.  Living in a hospital for the last 20 years of her life certainly is unusual.  However, the article doesn’t indicate that she lacked capacity to make that decision at least early in her 20-year stay.  Ms. Clark had the money to live anywhere that she wanted.  Ms. Clark was in bad shape when she first entered the hospital and they treated her back to health.  Apparently she felt safe and well-cared for in the hospital.

If Ms. Clark’s family members or friends were concerned about her mental capacity and decision making, or if they were concerned that the hospital was unduly influencing her, the article doesn’t indicate that Ms. Clark was ever conserved by her family members or that there was any attempt to conserve her during the 20 year hospital stay.

Ms. Clark did pay for the cost of her stay at the hospital.  The article doesn’t provide information about those costs.  The article indicates that Ms. Clark left $1 million to the hospital in her will, that she had donated to the hospital an additional $4 million during the 20 years, and that her estate was worth $300 million on her death.  The article also indicates or suggests that the hospital did try to get Ms. Clark to donate additional funds to the hospital.  The attorney for the parties who are contesting the will in part stated: “What this is about is not just a will contest, it’s about the accountability of professionals.”

My initial take away based on the information provided in the article (but of course additional information could indicate otherwise): inadequate evidence that Ms. Clark lacked mental capacity, or that she was coerced, and given the amount of her wealth it is arguable that she really wasn’t generous to the hospital but was instead generous to the people and entities who do inherit the majority of her wealth.  Given that Ms. Clark had lived at the hospital for 20 years, it would not have surprised me if she had left more to the hospital.

Trust, Estate & Elder Litigation, A Daily Paper; Protecting Seniors From Scams

New daily updated edition of California Trust, Estate & Elder Litigation, a daily paper containing new articles and discussions about California trust, estate, conservatorship and elder litigation, Click Here For Paper.

Protecting seniors from scams, Click Here For Article.

Enjoy, and pass along,
Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco)

Vidal Sassoon’s Will Two Months Before Death Disinherits Son?

Vidal Sassoon’s Will Two Months Before Death Disinherits Son?

According to an article on MSN, Click Here For Article, Vidal Sassoon’s will, executed two months before his death, disinherits his son and his son’s issue (children). In California a decedent’s estate is supposed to be distributed to the people in the amounts that the decedent would have intended. Is a will or trust valid and are the terms enforceable? Sometimes and sometimes not. Some of the possible issues include: is there evidence of undue influence; was there a lack of mental capacity to understand the will or trust and its terms; are the terms of the will or trust vague, ambiguous or incomplete; are the terms of the will or trust unnatural to what the decedent would have wanted based on historical evidence; is there evidence of fraud; are the beneficiaries statutorily prohibited from inheriting (such as because of involvement in the drafting or transcription of the will, or caregivers, or for other reasons); was the will or trust properly executed; are there medications or infirmities involved; who has the burden of proof and can it be shifted to another party; and other possible issues and claims. Will and trust disputes are complicated, law and evidence intensive, and very contentious.

Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco and California) – Trust, Estate, Conservatorship & Elder Litigation.