When a Trustee, Administrator or Executor of an estate does harm, and as a result an heir or beneficiary is hurt, the Trustee, Administrator or Executor is responsible for all the damage. Now let me tell you a typical story of what often happens in trust, estate and probate litigation cases.
83-year-old Dylan Cork, a father of three children, is gravely ill. Dylan is a retired school teacher and an experienced and capable investor. Dylan is a widower and lives in a large home in Mill Valley.
Dylan's only son, Bernard, lives with him. Bernard is unemployed and a heavy drinker. Bernard's only source of income, other than money that his father gives him, is from Social Security Disability payments. Bernard is divorced - three times - and has no children.
Dylan has two daughters - Ellen and Caroline. Ellen is a physical therapist, married to a dentist, and is the mother of four children. Ellen lives in Elk Grove, a two-hour drive from her father's Mill Valley home. Ellen sees her father at least once per month and picks him up and drives him to her Elk Grove home every Easter and Christmas. Bernard is invited to Ellen's home for these holidays but rarely attends. When Bernard does attend, his intoxication is a cause for concern.
Caroline is a musician, not married, and lives in San Diego. Caroline visits her father every other month and stays in the Mill Valley home while visiting. Caroline calls her father several times per week to stay in touch. Caroline will sometime visit her sister and father on holidays at Ellen's home.
In the summer of 2015, both Ellen and Caroline notice that their father is forgetful. Dylan tells Ellen that she hasn't seen him for months and rarely calls him. This is not true - Ellen took Dylan to his doctor's appointment earlier in the week and to a lunch in Sausalito after the appointment. Dylan introduced Ellen to his doctor as his wife, Wanda. Wanda died in 2010.
Caroline hears similar complaints from her father - again, he does not remember Caroline's frequent calls. Sometimes Dylan calls Caroline her sister's name, Ellen. Ellen and Caroline are making more frequent calls to each other to compare notes on their father's vulnerability.
Bernard's method of solving his problems only multiplied them. Image: 20th Century Fox
Both Caroline and Ellen have noticed that Bernard is listening in to all the calls that they make to their father. During Caroline's early summer visit with her father, she noticed that Bernard was driving a new Camaro and that he was spending some time at local Indian casinos. When Caroline asked her father about this, he said that Bernard needed a new car because he did all the grocery shopping. Bernard also told his father that if he did not get a new car, he would have to move to London. Bernard had never been further east than Utah.
Dylan dies in late summer of 2015 of a massive stroke. Dylan's daughters plan and pay for his funeral and religious services. Bernard attends the funeral and tells his sisters that their father was really mad at them because they ignored him. Both sisters know that they did not ignore their father.
A week after the funeral, Ellen calls her brother to inquire about settling the estate. Bernard responds that he is in charge and that there is nothing to worry about - everything is taken care of. After a series of calls and a visit to the Mill Valley home, Ellen learns that the house is now in Bernard's name and that all of Dylan's bank accounts had been changed to payable on death, or POD accounts. Bernard is the beneficiary of the accounts.
Dylan's portfolio of stocks is in the name of his Trust. Dylan's trust was formed in 2011 after his wife's death. The Trust names Caroline as the trustee after Dylan's death and Ellen as the successor trustee. All three children are named as equal beneficiaries of the trust.
Ellen and Caroline learn that there is a First Amendment to the Trust, made just three months before Dylan's death. The Amendment names Bernard as the trustee following Dylan's death and the sole beneficiary of the Trust. Ellen and Caroline are in disbelief and devastated.
Ellen and Caroline call Mike Hackard at Hackard Law and make an appointment. They all meet at Mike's office. This is the start of a somewhat painful but necessary process.
While the specifics of the litigation commenced against Bernard are omitted a quick summary is this: Bernard is sued for financial elder abuse; an action is commenced in the probate court to remove Bernard as the trustee of the trust; and Ellen and Caroline are seeking a Court finding that would entirely remove Bernard as an eligible heir and cause him to be liable to the estate for twice as much as he took from his father.
Facing serious and prolonged litigation, Bernard agrees to settle. The settlement is advantageous to Ellen and Caroline, but they still allow for some estate and trust assets to go to Bernard. There is a sigh of relief. Ellen and Caroline's efforts are vindicated.
While all of the above names and circumstances are fictional, they are a fair representation of what often happens in estate litigation. There is grief associated with the death of the loved one. There is shock at learning of the financial elder abuse. There is resignation that only litigation will make things right, and there is consolation and a sense of vindication when the matter is resolved.
If you're facing a similar estate problem, don't hesitate to talk with us. Hackard Law's top priority is protecting client interests. Call us today at 916-313-3030.