A recent news story on a Bay Area trust dispute caught my attention - not necessarily over the legal details, but because of the general elements common to many cases of estate litigation. It has features we encounter all too frequently in our advocacy for beneficiaries: a successful family business, an ailing patriarch, his children from a prior marriage, and a stepmother. These are the ingredients for potential conflict.
Back in 1951, an enterprising young immigrant arrives in San Francisco with his wife and founds a corner bakery that proves a hit with the local neighborhood. As the founder advances in age, he hands his son responsibility for running the business. The family-run bakery becomes a fixture of the community landscape for decades, right up to our present day. The patriarch owns not only the bakery, but also the entire corner complex, which means additional income from rent from apartment tenants on the second floor. But as the years go by, other changes occur as well.
Sometime in the 1990s, the businessman and his wife split up. He remarries. The son continues managing the bakery, and he and his stepmother seem to get along fine. With the passage of time, however, the family patriarch grows more ill. The bakery continues serving the community under the son's direction, but building maintenance problems arise with the apartment tenants upstairs. The relationship between the son and the stepmother deteriorates.
At some point the family patriarch had structured his trust to provide the stepmother a majority share as a beneficiary, which gave her controlling interest in the bakery. The head of the family is now 96 years old, and his health is failing. This year the stepmother decides to put the property, worth $3 million, up for sale. That means the bakery must close, but the son doesn't want to sell. The stage is set for conflict.
This story out of San Francisco is a scenario that plays out in various forms across California, from Alameda and Santa Clara to Los Angeles and Sacramento. Every week at Hackard Law, we get calls from trust beneficiaries who have been wronged, whether through elder financial abuse, undue influence, or fraudulent transfers. We represent clients in cases where we can make a significant difference and hold the wrongdoer accountable. You can call us at 916-313-3030, and we'll be glad to see how we can best help you.