When "an elderly person with a joint bank account dies, do the funds belong to the decedent's estate or do they belong to the additional signer as a co-owner of the account?" A recent California Court of Appeal case held that "[s]ums remaining on deposit at the death of a party to a joint account belong to the surviving party . . . as against the estate of the decedent unless there is clear and convincing evidence of a different intent." This is a basic or black-letter rule, a clear statement of the law. It is also a trap for those inclined to seize upon a seemingly clear explanation of the law that leaves no room for interpretation or nuance.
Anxiety fueled by grief is a part of the inventory process of a decedent's property. A family member is tasked by practicality, family consensus, or an estate document to gather a decedent's assets. Some assets are obvious - a house, documented bank accounts and securities and onsite personal property. Other assets are more opaque - physically separated in a financial institution safe deposit box or a house or office safe.
There is an African saying that "If the lion does not tell his story, the hunter will." It doesn't take long as an estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigator for Los Angeles clients to see that estate wrongdoers peddle similar stories to justify their actions. And, if these fanciful stories are not challenged the stories won't be refuted. So how do estate or trust asset hunters engaged in wrongdoing tell their stories? They usually sound something like this:
Recent Judicial Council of California Court Statistics confirm that Los Angeles probate and mental health court trials total over 14,000 per year. Many of these trials involve beneficiary allegations of wrongdoing against a trustee or battles to remove an existing trustee. So what is the background that sets the stage for trustee disputes in LA?
News of family trust, estate and probate disputes does not always travel fast. The sounds of family battles are initially muted by disbelief, family shame and reticence to fight against a family member amidst the grief of the moment. Our instinct is often that the dignity and desire for family unity will overcome disharmony and unresolved family differences.