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.

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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,

Elder Abusers Use The Legal System Also – Video

Elder and Dependent Adult Resources are Ridiculously Inadequate and Archaic

Elder Abuse and Protection Slides 2015

Counties Need to Refer Elder Abuse Cases to Private Attorneys – Video

Everyday is elder abuse prevent day – cartoon video

Completed (mostly) a will contest and trust real property percentage trial on Friday – read more

I have been away from the blog for a while, preparing for a very contentious and time-consuming trial.

This past week I was in trial on a will contest action, and also on related but separate real property ownership and trust beneficiary percentage ownership claims. The witnesses and experts included my client who was the named beneficiary, the contestant(s), documents in which the decedent expressed her wishes including a police report and APS records in addition to other documents, forensic document examiners, forensic psychiatrists, and third party witnesses including a very spry 102 year old woman who was a friend of the decedent (the decedent executed the will at age 103, and passed away approximately 9 months later at age 104). Issues also involve the validity of a power of attorney that the decedent executed in June 2015 (she died one month later in July 2015), mental capacity, undue influence, elder abuse, trust and power of attorney accountings, costs and attorneys’ fees, and other issues.

As you may be aware, issues of mental capacity and undue influence are not the same for wills, powers of attorney, and trusts, variously including California Probate Code §§810, etc., and 6100.5, etc., and California Welfare and Institutions Code §15610.70, and various other statutes and case law.

The will contest was denied, and my client will receive what the decedent wished and intended.

So . . . I will be back on this blog and other networking, and also on my other blog

Best to you, and thank you for following my blogs and posts. Dave Tate, San Francisco Bay Area and California.


Conservatorship Should Not Have Been Granted Where “Friend” Offered To Provide Help – Conservatorship of Jesse G.

I have attached below a pdf of this new California Appellate Court decision in which the Appellate Court overruled a trial court order granting a LPS conservatorship. I have attached the pdf of the entire decision because the decision is lengthy in its discussion of the facts, and only by reading the decision will you get a feel for how difficult it might be to establish that a conservatorship should be granted. And you should read other prior blog posts by me discussing conservatorship issues, including the rights of the prospective conservatee. Also note in my prior posts the crossover that there can be between the legal authorities that relate to LPS conservatorships and general probate court conservatorships. Thus, although Conservatorship of Jesse G. is a LPS conservatorship, the reasoning of the Court, and some or perhaps even most of the legal authorities cited, might also equally apply in a general probate court conservatorship proceeding.

As you read the decision in Conservatorship of Jesse G., note the facts that could arguably suggest that the prospective conservatee might need help, and arguably that the conservatorship could be granted. The Appellate Court (similar to the trial court) also notes that the case is a close call. Also note that it isn’t certain that the help or assistance that the friend offered to provide to the prospective conservatee will be sufficient, or that it will be lasting over time. And yet, the Appellate Court concludes that under the circumstances of the case, the granting of the conservatorship was not legally justified. And some of the reasons why the Court reached that decision have to do with the burden of proof that is required, and that preference to less restrictive measures must be given.

Here is a link to a pdf of the decision Conservatorship of Jesse G. – discussing evidence that a LPS conservatorship should not have been granted

Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco Bay Area and throughout California.

Probate Court Judges Need More Judiciary Education From The California Judicial Council

I can say this – absolutely. California judges need more, and more detailed, education about probate, wills, trusts, decedent’s intent, mental capacity, undue influence, fraud, conservatorships and elder and dependent adult abuse.

I’m not saying that all judges need more education – some are quite experienced in these areas – but over the past several years I have been running into situations where judges who primarily handle civil or criminal matters are also assigned probate related cases. And this can happen in any court for trial purposes because even in courts that have dedicated probate departments, the trial of a probate case that will take longer than a day will probably be assigned to the master calendar for trial and judicial assignment. I’m not faulting a judge for not having experience in these areas – I am faulting the system and the judiciary education system.

While, yes, it can be argued that it is then for the attorneys to educate that judge, if I’m a judge and one attorney is saying that the law and the required outcome are “X” and another attorney is saying that the law and the outcome are “Y,” as the judge I don’t know who to believe. And add to that the fact that probate, wills, trusts, intent, mental capacity, undue influence, fraud, conservatorships and elder and dependent adult cases and evidence are detailed and complicated, including the law in those areas, which is also regularly changing, and you have a recipe for erroneous decisions, and also opportunities for less than honest counsel to exceed the bounds of advocacy and improperly twist or spin the law and the evidence.

These are important cases. They are the probate court version of family law – important issues, very emotional, and people related and impacting.

Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco and California) and



New California Revocable Transfer On Death Deeds – The Good – The Bad And Abuse

California Revocable Transfer On Death Deeds – see the video immediately below, and the primary text for the video at the bottom of this post. Thank you. Please pass this information to other people who would be interested.

P.S., and another “bad” passed along by a friend on LinkedIn – the transferred property might be (most likely is) subject to recovery by Medi-Cal to reimburse the state for expenses paid by Medi-Cal for care during the transferor’s life – in other words, use of the revocable transfer on death deed might not be (most likely isn’t) wise Medi-Cal planning. But I don’t believe many people will be aware of that. The ability to transfer property by way of the revocable transfer on death deed also is not available for all types of property – that is, for some properties the use of the deed is not available. Everyone using or potentially using the revocable transfer on death deed needs to be aware of all of the options available including when it might be used, when it cannot be used, and the results of both. My recommendation: seek knowledgeable legal counsel.

Dave Tate

Text: California Revocable Transfer On Death Deeds

Hello, I’m Dave Tate. I’m a civil and trust, estate, conservatorship and elder abuse litigation attorney. I practice in San Francisco and throughout California. I also represent fiduciaries and beneficiaries in administrations.

This discussion is about the new California revocable transfer on death deed. You can find additional information on my blog at

You may have heard that California now recognizes a new revocable transfer on death deed for transferors who die on or after January 1, 2016. There are statutory requirements however. And here are a few of them.

The deed must appropriately identify the beneficiary or beneficiaries.

The transferor must sign and date the deed and have the deed acknowledged before a notary public.

The deed must be recorded on or before 60 days after the date that is was executed.

The transferor must have the mental capacity to contract.

If the deed is still valid and not revoked or otherwise overruled or superseded by another document, on the death of the transferor the property passes to the named beneficiary or beneficiaries without probate.

I expect that the revocable transfer on death deed will become a popular estate distribution transfer tool if the public is extensively educated about its availability and use.

The deed is promoted as an opportunity to transfer real property on death without having to incur the costs of having a will or trust prepared, or probate. That’s the opportunity for good.

On the other hand, the deed also presents opportunities for mistake and elder abuse.

The validity and operation of a revocable transfer on death deed are subject to statutory rules and requirements. Very importantly, these are rules and requirements that can be misunderstood, resulting in mistakes and unintended consequences.

As you might imagine, use of the deed also presents issues relating to intent and transferor lack of mental capacity, and opportunities for undue influence, fraud, duress, and elder abuse by family members, friends and third parties.

The validity of the deed can be contested. And I do expect that there definitely will be contests. So we will be seeing how these new revocable transfer on death deeds are used and abused.

That’s it for now. There are of course other cases and statutory provisions that can apply, and the facts of each situation are different. This discussion doesn’t constitute legal advice. You need to consult a lawyer or professional for your situation. You can find more information on my blog at Thanks for listening.

P.S., please see also the comment above at the top of this blog post about recovery of the property to reimburse Medi-Cal for expenses paid, and that the ability to transfer property by way of the revocable transfer on death deed also is not available for all types of property – that is, for some properties the use of the deed is not available. Everyone using or potentially using the revocable transfer on death deed needs to be aware of all of the options available including when it might be used, when it cannot be used, and the results of both. My recommendation: seek knowledgeable legal counsel.

Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco / California)

Mental capacity determinations – forwarding a discussion by Mehrdad Avati, M.D.

Please click on the following link for a worthwhile article by Mehrdad Avati, M.D., in which he discusses mental capacity determinations, different tests, and evaluation. For the article, Click Here

Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco and throughout California)
Blogs: trust, estate, conservatorship and elder abuse litigation, and administrations,, and D&O, boards and audit committees,