New California case expands shifting trust/trustee attorneys’ fees and costs to a beneficiary’s share of the trust

New California trust dispute decision expands shifting trust/trustee attorneys’ fees and costs to a beneficiary’s share of the trust – Pizarro v. Reynoso, California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, Case No. C077594, (March 28, 2017)

Summary. The decision in Pizarro v. Reynoso expands the shifting of trust/trustee attorneys’ fees and costs to a beneficiary’s trust share, and in relevant part reminds us that all trust and estate litigation cases vary and are determined in significant part by the facts and circumstances of that case, the relevant case law, and the discretion of the trial court judge. In Pizarro v. Reynoso, on appeal the Court of Appeal held as follows:

  1. The terms and intent of the trustor prevail in substance – refusing to elevate form over substance the court upheld a sale of the trust real property to a specific beneficiary which the trust authorized in the trustee’s discretion if the beneficiary could afford to purchase the house. The trustee in fact in part assisted the beneficiary in that purchase so that the beneficiary could purchase the property – never the less the court upheld the sale based on substance over form and the intent and terms of the trust.
  2. Under the court’s equitable powers, the attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by the trust/trustee are chargeable against the trust share of a beneficiary who brings an unfounded proceeding against the trust, but those attorneys’ fees and costs cannot be awarded against the beneficiaries other personal non-trust assets, citing Rudnick v. Rudnick (2009) 179 Cal. App. 4th 1328, 1332-1333, 1335, and Estate of Ivey (1994) 22 Cal. App. 4th 873, 877-878, 882-886.
  3. Important – in an expansion of #2 above and charging fees and costs to a beneficiary’s trust share, under those same equitable powers, the court also can award the trust/trustee attorneys’ fees and costs against the trust share of a beneficiary who has not filed or brought a proceed, but who takes an unfounded position and litigates in bad faith causing the trust to incur fees and costs (the beneficiary changed her position to being against the trustee, and in the trial court’s opinion then offered false testimony by declaration, deposition and at trial – offering false evidence in litigation is a bad faith litigation tactic).
  4. The court’s decision also cites or makes reference to California Probate Code §17211(a) and §15642(d), which state as follows (and I have also provided below §17211(b):

17211(a)

(a) If a beneficiary contests the trustee’s account and the court determines that the contest was without reasonable cause and in bad faith, the court may award against the contestant the compensation and costs of the trustee and other expenses and costs of litigation, including attorney’s fees, incurred to defend the account. The amount awarded shall be a charge against any interest of the beneficiary in the trust. The contestant shall be personally liable for any amount that remains unsatisfied.

(b) If a beneficiary contests the trustee’s account and the court determines that the trustee’s opposition to the contest was without reasonable cause and in bad faith, the court may award the contestant the costs of the contestant and other expenses and costs of litigation, including attorney’s fees, incurred to contest the account. The amount awarded shall be a charge against the compensation or other interest of the trustee in the trust. The trustee shall be personally liable and on the bond, if any, for any amount that remains unsatisfied.

15642(d)

(d) If the court finds that the petition for removal of the trustee was filed in bad faith and that removal would be contrary to the settlor’s intent, the court may order that the person or persons seeking the removal of the trustee bear all or any part of the costs of the proceeding, including reasonable attorney’s fees.

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Updated (02172017) California Trustee And Beneficiary Responsibilities And Rights – Please Use It, And Tell Others

Below I have provided a link to my updated (02172017) paper California Trustee and Beneficiary Responsibilities and Rights. Please use it, and pass it along and tell other people who would be interested.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq., Royse Law Firm, Northern and Southern California, 149 Commonwealth Drive, Ste. 1001, Menlo Park, CA 94025, (650) 813-9700, Extension 233, http://www.rroyselaw.com. My practice includes civil and probate court litigation (business, real estate, trusts and estates, employment, IP, D&O, serious personal injury, elder abuse, etc., and representing fiduciaries and beneficiaries, and audit committees and D&O.

Here is the link to the updated California Trustee and Beneficiary Responsibilities and Rights (02172017) a-summary-of-california-trustee-and-beneficiary-responsibilities-and-rights-dave-tate-esq-02172017

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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 http://auditcommitteeupdate.com.

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

 

Everyday is elder abuse prevention day – video cartoon – please pass it along

Here’s a different presentation approach – please do pass it along to your contacts and people who would be interested. This is an important topic that needs more discussion. Thank you. Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco and California)

Can You Stop An Aging Parent From Self-Neglect At Home – by Carolyn Rosenblatt

The following is a good discussion by Carolyn Rosenblatt, on a topic that is ongoing for many, many families – can you stop an aging parent from self-neglect at home? The link to Carolyn’s article is provided below.

When is it self-neglect or self-abuse, and what can or do you do about it?

Unless you have the cooperation of the parent (and other family members), and the needed financial, insurance coverage, and time resources, and know who to contact, the issues are even more difficult to resolve. I see many family members who are dealing with these issues in trust, power of attorney, and conservatorship situations. What are the responsibilities/duties and rights, and what options are available and can be achieved? I am also aware of one California case involving a finding of elder abuse in a situation where family members did not take action to try to remedy the situation.

These issues are or can be difficult even with cooperation and resources. To see Carolyn’s article, CLICK HERE.

Dave Tate, Esq. San Francisco and California

Trustee and Beneficiary Responsibilities and Rights – Discussion Paper

If you are a trustee you need to know your responsibilities, and if you are a beneficiary you should know your rights. The following is a summary paper discussing both the responsibilities and the rights. Of course the California Probate Code is considerably longer and more detailed than the points discussed in this paper, there are also case law interpretations, and every case and situation is unique, but the paper will give you good insight. Click on the following link for the paper and discussion, A Summary of California Trustee and Beneficiary Responsibilities and Rights Dave Tate Esq 01052016.

Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco

What Is A California Conservatorship – An Overview

I was initially going to make this discussion as a video, and I still might; however, the video obviously takes more time. Below is the discussion about California conservatorships – specifically, what is a California conservatorship, an overview.

First – a reminder and an obligatory disclaimer – this discussion is only a summary of a complicated topic. You need to consult with an attorney about your situation. You cannot rely on this discussion for your situation. And this is not a solicitation for services inside or outside of California, I only represent clients in California, I don’t know anything about your situation or case, and you have not hired me for your situation or case.

Now, that having been said, the following is an overview discussion about California conservatorships.

A conservatorship is a court proceeding where the court legally appoints someone to make and manage personal, medical, daily living, residential placement, or financial matters and decisions for another person.

The person whose rights are being taken away or limited is called the conservatee. The person who is being appointed to manage matters and make decisions for the conservatee is called the conservator.

A conservatorship is a serious legal proceeding because the court, which is a state governmental entity, is being petitioned to take away or limit some of the prospective conservatee’s freedoms and personal and constitutional rights.

The conservatee has the right to fight or oppose the conservatorship, who might be appointed, and the powers of the conservator. And a prospective conservatee has the right to a jury trial.

You might ask, when is a conservatorship needed? Typically a conservatorship might be needed when a person can no longer make and manage the personal, medical or financial matters and decisions for herself or himself, and she or he hasn’t legally appointed someone else to handle those matters and decisions.

So, for example, a conservatorship might be needed if there are no, or insufficient, power of attorney and trust documents, and the person no longer has the mental capacity to execute those documents or refuses to do so.

On the other hand, a conservatorship should not be granted if there is a less restrictive way to provide the help or assistance that is needed, and if the court grants the petition for conservatorship, the court can order only the least restrictive terms, conditions and limitations that are necessary under the circumstances.

The person who is petitioning for conservatorship has the burden of producing sufficient admissible evidence to establish that the court should grant the conservatorship. Conservatorship proceedings can be very contentious.

If a conservatorship is granted, the case remains with the court for future review of the actions taken or not taken by the conservator, accountings if the conservatorship is of the estate, and whether the conservatorship is still needed.

Often a conservator is required to make very important and serious decisions. The conservatee and other people can oppose or object to what the conservator is going to do or has done. Sometimes the case will go back to court for the court to make decisions or orders.

The conservator needs to be represented by an attorney. The conservatee will be represented by an attorney if the conservatee requests one. And in conservatorship disputes it is common for other family members or friends to also be represented by legal counsel.

Recent California conservatorship court decisions have dealt with conservatee’s rights including the right to a jury trial, and in a very recent case the appellate court overruled the trial court, holding that the conservatorship should not have been granted because a friend had instead offered to provide the help and assistance that the prospective conservatee needed.

I have already explained that a prospective conservatee has the right to oppose the conservatorship, and to a jury trial.

You should also be aware that if the conservatorship is granted, the conservatee might also continue to disagree with decisions and actions that are being made or taken.

And I have also seen situations where the preexisting relationship between the conservatee and the conservator was forever damaged, and situations where the prospective conservatee, or the actual conservatee if the conservatorship was granted, then sought to disinherit the person who petitioned for conservatorship or who was appointed by the court to serving as the conservator.

There are many provisions in the California Probate Code that discuss conservatorship proceedings and duties and rights. There are too many provisions to cover in these materials. However, generally you can look at Probate Code sections 1400 through 3212. Other Probate Code sections are also applicable.

In addition to the conservatee’s rights, I also find particularly interesting and important the provisions that relate to conservator duties and decision making, including how the conservator should go about making decisions and what to consider, possibly including the wishes of the conservatee.

You can find additional information on my blogs at http://californiaestatetrust.com and http://auditcommitteeupdate.com, and you can call me at (415) 917-4030. That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.

Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco and California