Don’t delay: allegations of incompetence could give beneficiary standing, but delay in taking action could bar a beneficiary from contesting a trust or will at a later date (laches), Drake v. Pinkham

Drake v. Pinkham (California Court of Appeal, Third District, Case No. C068747, decided May 28, 2013, ordered for publication June 21, 2013).

This case involves a daughter’s (Gina) contest of two of her mother’s (Josephine) trust amendments (amendments dated 2001 and 2004) on the grounds that at the time of the amendments Josephine lacked mental capacity, was unduly influenced by a second daughter (Janice), and did not understand the amendments or her estate.  On a motion for summary judgment the trial court found that Gina’s contest was barred by the statute of limitations and principles of collateral estoppel.  On appeal, the Court of Appeal did not consider the statute of limitations or collateral estoppel issues, but instead found that Gina’s contest was barred by the defense of laches.

Gina filed her contest after her mother’s October 2009 death.  However, several years earlier, in 2005, Gina had filed a petition requesting the court to confirm her appointment as co-trustee under the terms of the trust and amendments dated 1992, 1993 and 1999.  Gina claimed that Josephine lacked the ability to care for herself or act as trustee and Janice’s alleged undue influence over her – Gina alleged that after the death of Josephine’s husband Theodore Janice began progressively isolating Josephine to the point that Gina no longer had contact with her mother, and that Janice had complete control over Josephine including her finances and was acting as the sole trustee of the trust.  Filed an objection to Gina’s 2005 petition and attached to her objection copies of her 2001 and 2004 trust amendments. The 2001 Fourth Amendment eliminated Gina as a beneficiary and named Janice as the sole successor trustee, and the 2004 Fifth Amendment designated Janice as Josephine’s acting co-trustee and sole successor trustee.  At that time in 2005 Gina did not challenge the 2001 or 2004 amendments.  Instead, Gina entered into a settlement agreement in which Josephine represented that she was the sole acting trustee, and in her capacity as such on behalf of all successor trustees, she agreed not to sell, encumber, lease, rent, transfer or otherwise take any action affecting any real property of the trust without prior notice to Gina and Janice as provided in the trust.

On appeal the Court addressed several important issues that could have ramifications or that might at least be considered in cases where issues exist relating to mental capacity, undue influence, and understanding of the trust or will documents and the nature of the estate and its assets.

  1. On appeal Gina argued as a defense that in 2005 she did not have standing to contest the 2001 and 2004 amendments pursuant to Cal. Probate Code sections 17200 and 15800 because the trust was still revocable in 2005.  The Court of Appeal noted that under sections 17200 and 15800 a beneficiary lacks standing to challenge a trust so long as the “trust is revocable and the person holding the power to revoke the trust is competent.”  The Court held that it was not persuaded by Gina’s argument, holding that since Gina alleged in 2005 that Josephine was incompetent, those allegations by Gina in 2005 took the matter outside of the terms of section 15800, and with those allegations Gina had standing in 2005 to contest the trust amendments, although at trial she still would have had the burden of proving her contest of the amendments.
  2. The Court further held that laches barred Gina from contesting the 2001 and 2004 amendments after her mother died in 2009.  In pertinent part, the Court discussed that the defense of laches requires unreasonable delay plus either acquiescence in the act about which plaintiff complains or prejudice to the defendant resulting from any delay – and that any delay is measured from the time that the plaintiff knew or should have known about the alleged claim.  In 2005 Gina had the usual rights of a trust beneficiary and beneficiary legal standing if Gina simply alleged that Josephine was incompetent, which Gina did in fact allege in 2005.  Further, “Finally, Gina’s failure to bring the action until after Josephine had passed away was necessarily prejudicial where, as here, each and every cause of action set forth in the underlying petition centered on Josephine – her mental capacity, defendant’s influence over her, and her understanding of the Fourth [2001] and Fifth [2004] Amendments and her estate.  (See Bono v. Clark (2002) 103 Cal.App.4th 1409, 1420 [the death of an important witness may constitute prejudice]; Stafford v. Ballinger (1962) 199 Cal. App.2d 289, 296 [same].”

Take away from Drake v. Pinkham, assuming that the case is not further appealed to the California Supreme Court.

  1. As always, before you file any pleading, claim, allegation or paper with any court relating to a trust, will or other document with a no contest clause or to which a no contest clause applies, you must evaluate and make sure that the filing will not trigger the no contest clause.  If such a clause is triggered, the result might be that you are disinherited.  These are complicated issues – you need to consult with an attorney on these issues.
  2. A simple allegation that the trustor is incompetent might allow or provide the trust beneficiary or potential beneficiary with legal standing and certain beneficiary rights in an otherwise revocable trust under Cal. Probate Code sections 17200, 15800, the terms of the trust, accounting and information provisions, and other statutes.  Of course, the proof of those claims must still be established by the evidence.
  3. Allegations and claims, statements, and knowledge of facts by a beneficiary or potential beneficiary, or facts that a beneficiary or potential beneficiary should know, could trigger a requirement that the beneficiary or potential beneficiary bring suit and not delay bringing suit to enforce his or her rights and entitlements, or be barred from doing so later pursuant to the defense of laches such as if the testator dies or the testator’s mental competency declines as time passes.
  4. The defense of laches, i.e., delay, and case law relating to laches now take on renewed potential importance in trust, will, conservatorship and power of attorney litigation.  For example, if a beneficiary or potential beneficiary knows of a trust or will, or a trust amendment or will codicil, that is contrary to the beneficiary’s rights or interests, and the beneficiary simply believes that the trustor or testator might have had capacity issues or might have been unduly influenced, or that testamentary document seems contrary to what the trustor or testator would have naturally done or wanted or understood about his or her assets or estate, might that beneficiary or potential beneficiary be required to file a legal action on those possible claims without delay, or be barred by laches from doing so at a later time?  I have seen trust, will, conservatorship and power of attorney situations where people have delayed taking action – under the holding in Drake v. Pinkham they now need to consider the possible effect of delay and possible laches defenses against them if they do delay in bringing a legal action.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq.

Disclaimer and Warning.  This blog post and the contents and information contained in the post are not legal advice, do not create or cause an attorney client relationship with your or anyone else, and do not relate or pertain to any person, entity or factual situation, and I do not know the facts of your situation.  The contents of this blog post are only a summary of information which could change over time.  I have not advised you about your situation, and you definitely should consult with an attorney for your particular situation.

* * * * *

 

Advertisements

Dr. Kerry Burnight on Live Long and Master Aging – Loneliness, Aging, Technology and GrandPad

Below I have provided a link to a podcast with Dr. Kerry Burnight on Live Long and Master Aging, in which Dr. Burnight, a gerontologist, discusses many aspects of aging, including, for example, the value of older people, and how technology can help with aging loneliness. Dr. Burnight also discusses a product that she is involved with, the GrandPad and how they worked to make the product specifically useful for older users. The podcast is somewhat long; however, you will find that there are useful comments and information throughout. Here is the link to the podcast http://www.llamapodcast.com/kerry-burnight/

As I was listening to the podcast I started thinking about the usefulness of the GrandPad in terms of risk management or enterprise risk management (ERM), and legal duties, responsibilities and rights, in the context of nursing homes for example. Is a product like the GrandPad something that nursing homes should (or must?) provide or make available to their residents, to make it easier for a resident to safely stay in touch with family and friends, for socialization, for mental stimulation and to help prevent decline in mental capabilities, and for personal daily living enjoyment?  

Best to you, David Tate, Esq.

And here is a snapshot of the Live Long and Master Aging website page:

Snapshot of Kerry Burnight on Long Live and Master Aging

David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA), Royse Law Firm, Menlo Park, California office, with offices in northern and southern California.  My blogs: trust, estate, elder abuse and conservatorship litigation http://californiaestatetrust.com, D&O, boards, audit committees, governance, etc. http://auditcommitteeupdate.com, workplace http://workplacelawreport.com

OVERVIEW OF A RISK MANAGEMENT PROCESS THAT YOU CAN USE 03162018

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Success, Diligence, and Defense - David Tate, Esq, 05052018

COSO Enterprise Risk Management Framework ERM Components and Principles

David Tate, Esq., Overview of My Practice Areas (Royse Law Firm, Menlo Park, California office, with offices in northern and southern California. http://rroyselaw.com)

  • Civil Litigation: business, commercial, real estate, D&O, board and committee, founder, owner, investor, creditor, shareholder, M&A, and other disputes and litigation
  • Probate Court Litigation: trust, estate, elder abuse, and conservatorship disputes and litigation
  • Administration: trust and estate administration and contentious administrations representing fiduciaries and beneficiaries
  • Workplace (including discrimination) litigation and consulting
  • Board, director, committee and audit committee, and executive officer responsibilities and rights

Royse Law Firm – Overview of Firm Practice Areas – San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin

  • Corporate and Securities, Financing and Formation
  • Corporate Governance, D&O, Boards and Committees, Audit Committees, Etc.
  • Intellectual Property – Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights, Trade Secrets
  • International
  • Immigration
  • Mergers & Acquisitions
  • Labor and Employment
  • Litigation (I broke out the litigation as this is my primary area of practice)
  •             Business & Commercial
  •             IP – Patent, Trademark, Copyright, Trade Secret, NDA
  •             Accountings, Fraud, Lost Income/Royalties, Etc.
  •             Internet Privacy, Hacking, Speech, Etc.
  •             Labor and Employment
  •             Mergers & Acquisitions
  •             Real Estate
  •             Owner, Founder, Investor, D&O, Board/Committee, Shareholder
  •             Lender/Debtor
  •             Investigations
  •             Trust, Estate, Conservatorship, Elder Abuse, and Administrations
  • Real Estate
  • Tax (US and International) and Tax Litigation
  • Technology Companies and Transactions, Including AgTech and HealthTech, Etc.
  • Wealth and Estate Planning, Trust and Estate Administration, and Disputes and Litigation

Disclaimer. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside or outside of California, and also does not provide legal or other professional advice to you or to anyone else, or about a specific situation – remember that laws are always changing – and also remember and be aware that you need to consult with an appropriate lawyer or other professional about your situation. This post also is not intended to and does not apply to any particular situation or person, nor does it provide and is not intended to provide any opinion or any other comments that in any manner state, suggest or imply that anyone or any entity has done anything unlawful, wrong or wrongful – instead, each situation must be fully evaluated with all of the evidence, whereas this post only includes summary comments about information that may or may not be accurate and that most likely will change over time.

A party filing a petition in probate to enforce a no contest clause triggers the anti-SLAPP statute

David Tate, Esq., Royse Law Firm, California (Silicon Valley/Menlo Park Office, with additional offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Orange County), http://rroyselaw.com/

The following is a brief discussion about a new California case in which the court held that a party filing a petition in probate to enforce a no contest clause triggers the anti-SLAPP statute. If you have never been involved in the anti-SLAPP statute, it is a big deal. The case is Urick v. Urick, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Case No. B278257 (October 5, 2017).

Summary. Filing a petition for instructions in probate, claiming that a trustee or beneficiary had triggered a no contest clause by filing her prior petition to reform or modify a trust, is a claim that triggers prong one of the California anti-SLAPP statute Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §425.16, which means that the party seeking to claim and enforce that the no contest clause was triggered must be prepared to satisfy prong two of the anti-SLAPP statute which requires him to sufficiently establish a reasonable possibility of prevailing on the claim that the no contest clause was triggered and violated.

Takeaway. If you bring a claim to enforce a no contest clause based on an opposing party’s prior petition filed in probate, you must be prepared at the time of your filing to establish to the court, based on evidence and declarations, that you have a reasonable possibility of prevailing on your claim that the other party had triggered and violated the no contest clause.

Urick is also interesting for the court’s discussion whether the previously filed petition to reform or modify the trust triggered the no contest clause, including the discussion whether that previously filed petition was filed by the petitioner as a beneficiary of the trust or as the trustee of the trust and whether there was really a distinction that mattered under the facts of the case.

Other thoughts about the anti-SLAPP statute. I have been involved in Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §425.16 motions. It is my opinion that it is a deeply flawed statute except possibly in really obvious and clear situations and in those cases the party who has those defenses has other remedies such as a demurrer, motion to strike, or motion for summary judgment or summary adjudication. The anti-SLAPP statute should be revoked or very significantly amended and limited. To add further injury, the filing of an anti-SLAPP motion automatically stays all discovery unless a motion to allow and compel discovery is brought and the court grants that motion – thus, strategically a party might bring an anti-SLAPP motion simply to see if they can prevail even if their arguments and chances of prevailing are not good – and the statute further provides that if a party prevails on an anti-SLAPP motion they are entitled to attorneys’ fees whereas if a party defeats an anti-SLAPP motion the statute does not provide that they are entitled to recover attorneys’ fees. The anti-SLAPP statute is ripe for abuse or use in situations that might be counter to other public or judicial policies, which the court in Urick appeared to recognize, but as the court noted, nevertheless the statute is still on the books and is applicable unless and until the Legislature does something about the statute.

* * * * * * *

New FinCEN and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Memo re Efforts to Combat Elder Financial Exploitation

At the bottom of this post you will find a link to a new Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau memorandum about efforts to combat elder financial exploitation, which the memo identifies as the illegal or improper use of an older person’s funds, property or assets. And I have also included additional links below. As the memo notes, “Financial institutions can play a key role in detecting, responding to, and preventing EFE [Elder Financial Exploitation]. The memo also encourages collaboration between financial institutions, law enforcement and APS [Adult Protective Services]. This is a topic that I have handled in many actual cases, and about which I have given presentations and written blog posts. I have also seen a recent article discussing the rather large percentage of incidents in which physical elder abuse is not reported by medical facilities such as hospitals.

It has long been my view that the collaboration effort must also include private attorneys, for the simple reason that law enforcement and APS simply do not have the resources to handle the numbers of cases, or how long it takes to prosecute them to obtain recovery. Reporting is one thing, prosecuting the cases is an entirely different matter. Law enforcement and APS are not staffed to obtain recovery through the court system. The district attorney and attorney general are staffed to prosecute these cases through the court system, but again, the resources available are inadequate. These cases can involve complicated legal and evidentiary issues including mental capacity, undue influence, dependence, consent, fiduciary and other duties, burden of proof, etc.

In addition to the below link to the FinCEN/Financial Protection Bureau memorandum, I have also provided below a few links to some of my prior posts on this topic and elder abuse.

Best regards, David Tate, Esq., Royse Law Firm, Menlo Park office, http://rroyselaw.com/

http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201708_cfpb-treasury-fincen_memo_elder-financial-exploitation.pdf

Elder Abusers Use The Legal System Also – Video http://wp.me/p1wbl8-jp

Elder and Dependent Adult Resources are Ridiculously Inadequate and Archaic http://wp.me/p1wbl8-cV

Elder Abuse and Protection Slides 2015 http://wp.me/p1wbl8-dm

Counties Need to Refer Elder Abuse Cases to Private Attorneys – Video http://wp.me/p1wbl8-ke

Everyday is elder abuse prevent day – cartoon video http://wp.me/p1wbl8-lE

New Story – elder in board and care assisted living (RCFE) runs out of money, and doesn’t qualify for a nursing home under Medi-Cal

I heard about this recently – a new situation is arising. I’m just telling you about it. The elder is living in a residential care facility for the elderly, sometimes referred to as a RCFE, or assisted living or board and care. The elder is paying with private money. The assets and money run out. The elder doesn’t have family, or the family doesn’t have money, or the family won’t pay for the elder. Medi-Cal will not pay for a RCFE. In the past, in some situations, going to a nursing home was a last resort as Medi-Cal will pay for the cost of the nursing home. In the past the referral to a nursing home might merely have needed a doctor’s signature. Increasingly, Medi-Cal or its agents or representatives are starting to evaluate whether the elder’s physical, medical or mental conditions actually qualify the elder to be in the nursing home. In other words, if it is decided that the elder’s conditions are not sufficiently bad to qualify the elder to be in the nursing home, Medi-Cal will not pay for the costs of the nursing home, and the elder either will not be allowed initially into the home, or the nursing home and Medi-Cal will want to discharge and force the elder from the nursing home. But in those situations the elder has nowhere that she or he can afford with private pay.

Is Your Trust, Estate, Power Of Attorney, Conservatorship, Or Care Situation Contentious?

Are there disagreements and disputes in your trust, estate, power of attorney, conservatorship or care situation? That’s not unusual. In fact, based on my experience, I would have to say that it’s pretty common. But it can also be a game changer.

Generally a fiduciary such as a trustee, executor or conservator, and sometimes an attorney in fact, should always hire an attorney when challenging or difficult issues or significant assets are involved. The question is whether one of the parties who is involved in the situation has, or needs to, or may, or likely will hire an attorney with a view toward litigation? That’s a game changer when that possibility might occur or actually does.

Trust, estate, conservatorship, power of attorney, care and elder abuse situations and litigation are complicated legal practice areas that typically can involve a lot of emotional feelings and mistrust, and that require the attorney to know multiple areas of law and court procedure.

If you are a fiduciary such as a trustee, executor, conservator or attorney in fact you need to hire an attorney who can advise you properly about your responsibilities and on the administration of the trust, estate and assets, or on the care and daily living needs of the conservatee or person in need, with a view toward helping you to satisfy your responsibilities effectively and correctly, practicing prudent risk management and documentation, avoiding liability and litigation, and prevailing in court if the situation ends up in court.

If you are a beneficiary you need to hire an attorney who can steer you correctly to help you protect your rights and obtain the assets that were intended for you, and not waste your resources and the resources of the trust or of the estate, or possibly cause you to be surcharged for the attorneys’ fees of the other side, with a view toward prevailing in court if the situation ends up in court. If you are a beneficiary you also don’t want to unknowingly contest a trust or will or possibly disinherit yourself.

And if you are a trustor who is no longer trustee, or a principal under a power of attorney, or a conservatee, you need to feel and know that your physical, mental and financial needs and rights are correctly and timely cared for and protected, and you might also need to be represented by legal counsel. In fact, if the situation ends up in court, in some situations, such as in a conservatorship, you have an absolute right to be represented by an attorney, and in other situations the court should and will on its own appoint legal counsel to represent and advocate for you.

For additional information, the following is a link to my summary paper discussing trustee and beneficiary responsibilities and rights, and you can also find helpful information about other situations on other posts on this blog, CLICK HERE

Contact me if you would like to discuss your situation. You can contact me by sending me an email at davetateesq@gmail.com. Before we discuss your situation I will need to know the names of the people and attorneys involved to check for any possible conflicts.

Wishing you the very best,

Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco and throughout California

DTatePicture_Square

From Trusts & Estates – Safeguarding Trusts from Future Ex-Spouse – Also Good Marketing for Estate Planning Attorneys

Trusts & Estates article Safeguard Trusts from Future Ex-Spouse of Beneficiary

This is a very interesting article from Trusts & Estates that I almost overlooked. It isn’t the Massachusetts case discussion that interests me, it is that I never hear estate planning attorneys discussing these topics and using these topics to tell people additional reasons why they might need a trust and how trusts can be used, and to differentiate one estate planning attorney’s services from another. Click on the following link for the article, CLICK HERE

Dave Tate, Esq., civil (business, real estate, injury), trust, estate, conservatorship and elder abuse litigation and contentious administrations, representing fiduciaries, beneficiaries and family members, San Francisco and throughout California. See also my other blog for audit committees, http://auditcommitteeupdate.com