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Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is a diagnosis assigned to individuals who habitually violate the rights of others without remorse (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5®), Fifth Edition). In estate, trust and probate litigation, it's an unfortunate fact that people who exhibit signs of this diagnosis, commonly known as sociopaths, are often the cause of estate disputes. DSM-5® lists one of the primary elements of diagnosis as disregard for and violation of others rights as indicated by one or more of seven elements. The seven elements are:
1. Failure to obey laws and norms by engaging in behavior which results in criminal arrest, or would warrant criminal arrest;
2. Lying, deception, and manipulation, for profit or self-amusement;
3. Impulsive behavior;
4. Irritability and aggression, manifested as frequently assaults others, or engages in fighting;
5. Blatantly disregards safety of self and others;
6. A pattern of irresponsibility; and
7. Lack of remorse for actions (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Experience counts. My particular experience in probate, estate and trust litigation began in the late 1970s. Given four decades of professional experience I can offer some relevant observations that will help to shed light on how people who habitually violate the rights of others without remorse - a trait of sociopathic behavior - create havoc in families and inflame the tensions and difficulties in families dealing with the loss of a loved one.
A core concept in estate & trust administration is accountability. Undue influence litigation is rife with individuals who reject accountability. Their failure to obey laws and societal norms by engaging in behavior that could subject them to criminal arrest is striking.
Years of experience bring to mind a multiple of examples of wrongdoers' behavior, and plenty correspond to the characteristics of an antisocial personality. The examples are generalized and changed in some ways in order to protect innocent parties. That said the essence of the wrongdoers' behavior is captured. Examples of such behaviors abound: An executor steals part of the residue of an estate from an innocent heir; A personal representative suppresses the fact that her mother, the decedent, had other children entitled to notice and to a portion of their mother's estate; and a trustee takes his aunt's collection of gold coins from a safe deposit box and denies the existence of the collection when challenged by the trust's beneficiaries.
Lying, deception and manipulation are part and parcel of the sociopath's strategy. Lying may include denial of the existence of a will or a trust. Once the existence of a will or trust is known, the liar may then deny the existence of the estate's assets. The manipulation of one set of beneficiaries against another set is part of a sociopath's toolkit of destruction. A sociopath using elder financial abuse or undue influence to effect death bed changes to the decedent's long-held estate plans is not at all uncommon. So too is the sociopath's lack of remorse for his or her actions.
That giant of American law, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., penned, "The life of the law has not been logic. It has been experience." Holmes' wisdom is easily applied in probate, estate and trust litigation. There are so many circumstances that arise that are simply not logical. They have to be experienced to be believed.
- Is it logical that a trustee thinks that he can loot his father's trust with impunity?
- Is it logical that a daughter thinks that she can use her father's trust money to buy a new car for herself and a vacation cruise with her boyfriend?
- Is it logical that a son holding his mother's power of attorney takes his mother's money to buy a home for his girlfriend?
You get the idea. Wrongdoers are not always logical. Discovery of their wrongdoing is often bewildering to logical people with an established set of cherished values. When estate wrongdoing is discovered, disbelief by the victim is a common reaction, followed by anger. We generally are engaged to do estate or trust litigation at the abused beneficiary's anger stage. Our clients often express to us that they have to overcome their disbelief before engaging a probate or trust litigation attorney. We understand - we've protected many clients from sociopathic bad actors who prey on the unsuspecting.
We are hired to hold the wrongdoer accountable and to collect that which has been wrongfully taken from an heir or beneficiary. This is not always an easy task. Wrongdoers operate in the shadows, and once discovered they may vigorously fight efforts to bring them to justice and accountability. Sociopaths have no shame or sense of responsibility, and they'll lie right up to the end if it's convenient for them.
If you are dealing with estate or trust wrongdoing, know that our litigation team at Hackard Law is experienced and passionate about protecting our clients' interests and preventing further harm to them. We serve clients throughout California - whether in Sacramento, Los Angeles or the Bay Area, and we're there for them when they need us. You can call us at 916-313-3030. We'll be happy to listen to your story and see how we can help you. Thank you.
Call us today at 916-313-3030.
Find us at:
10630 Mather Blvd.
Mather, CA 95655