Imagine: Your mother is an 86-year-old widow. Your father passed away ten years ago. You have three siblings – two brothers and a sister. You’re all now in your 50s.
Your mother lives in the San Mateo family home. You live in Orinda. Your two brothers live in Santa Clara County. Your sister, age 56, lives with your mother.
You and your brothers are college graduates. You’re a psychologist. One brother is a city planner and the other a rocket engineer. Your sister who lives with your mother does not have a job. She has been on some type of disability since her mid-40s. She’s worked about one year total since she finished high school.
She never went to college. In one way or another, she has lived off your parents her entire adult [...]
California heirs and beneficiaries expect that trustees, estate representatives and executors will act as good and prudent fiduciaries. When these fiduciaries fail and take money belonging to trust beneficiaries, they may be subject to civil and even criminal penalties.
There are several cases in point. A Sacramento woman was indicted by a federal grand jury in April 2018 for mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering (U.S. v. Stewart-Cabrera, United States District Court, E.D. California, Case No. 2:18-CR-0085 KJM). The woman, a professional fiduciary, served as the trustee of a trust that owned Sacramento property. The U.S. Attorney’s news release indicates that Loretta Darlene Stewart-Cabrera, the trustee, carried out a scheme in whi[...]
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 [...]
“Just one more thing...”
Do you remember that famous catchphrase from Lieutenant Columbo, played brilliantly by actor Peter Falk? He was one of the most important TV and movie stars of his day, and he inspired a generation of detective shows.
Falk lost an eye at the age of three because of a malignant tumor, and because of that disability, he was rejected from the armed services. He nevertheless joined the US Merchant Marines at the end of World War II and served as a cook and mess boy. He later applied for a job with the CIA but was rejected because he had joined a union while serving in the Merchant Marines. It wasn’t until he was 30 years old that he ultimately decided to pursue a career in acting.
Most people do not know [...]
How many times in life do we falter because we or someone helping us fails to ask the right questions?
We’ve all heard, seen or experienced circumstances where friends or relatives suffered, maybe died, because someone responsible for their health failed to identify a safety or health problem.
They failed to ask the right questions.
I have my own experience with medical diagnosis and the right questions. Nearly 30 years ago I woke up at 3:00 in the morning with symptoms that mimicked a heart attack. My wife sprang into action, paramedics arrived, and I was soon on my way to an emergency room. Appropriate tests for heart disease and injury were accomplished. I came out well.
Maybe it was stress. We took more vacations, watched my diet [...]
Trust instruments are like a set of instructions. They can be like a clear day or a murky pond. A good set of instructions should be simple, readable and avoid legal jargon. The settlor, the maker of the trust, should work to clearly identify the beneficiaries of his trust, their form of interest (income or principal) and the timing and plan of distribution.
Our law firm often represents trust beneficiaries and disinherited heirs excluded by the action of a wrongdoer. I meet with disinherited heirs and often hear that “mom would have never done that” or “dad always told us that we would be treated equally. We heard that for 30 years.” Our job as trust litigation lawyers is to delve deeper – to look at the trust maker’s capacity[...]
Blundering trust and estate bandits are still bandits – outlaws secretly or openly defiant of laws and responsibilities that go with the legal obligations required of those who possess or are otherwise responsible for estate or trust assets. While the vast majority of trust and estate professionals take their fiduciary obligations seriously, unfortunately some outliers, some might say “bandits” - those who take “unfair advantage over others usually to procure inordinate payment or profit.”  Inordinate payment may range from outright theft to unconscionable overbilling that drain trusts and estate funds.
Longtime Nevada estate attorney Robert Graham pled guilty last fall “to stealing more than $16 million from clients, many o[...]
Petitions to suspend the powers of a California trustee are part and parcel of trust litigation. They’re often filed with the Probate Division of the Superior Court in which the trust is administered or the trustee resides.
California Probate Code Section 15642 provides in part “If it appears to the court that trust property or the interests of a beneficiary may suffer loss or injury pending a decision on a petition for removal of a trustee. . . the court may, on its own motion or on petition of a cotrustee or beneficiary, compel the trustee whose removal is sought to surrender trust property to a cotrustee or to a receiver or temporary trustee. The court may also suspend the powers of the trustee to the extent the court deems necessar[...]
Under California law, Los Angeles beneficiaries have fundamental rights that are integral to a fair, timely and equitable distribution of trust assets. While the terms of a trust should be inviolable, there are still unfortunate cases when trustees abuse their authority and commit breach of fiduciary duty. This can result in serious damage to the trust and put a family’s economic future in jeopardy.
When a bad trustee is in charge, all bets are off – they could delay or withhold trust distributions to beneficiaries, conceal or lie about the true state of trust assets, and even drain the trust of all its funds. In instances like these, it’s important for beneficiaries to move quickly to prevent further harm and protect their inheritan[...]
For many of us, our expectations of fairness arise from an early childhood experience that struck us as “unfair.” We may have seen an action affecting us or others that dashed our expectations – expectations often grounded in childhood innocence. These events may stay with us and influence our desire for fairness in our lives and in the lives of others.
We often hear that “life is unfair.” Even Ecclesiastes notes that “the race is not always won by the swiftest, the battle is not always won by the strongest; prosperity does not always belong to those who are the wisest, wealth does not always belong to those who are the most discerning, nor does success always come to those with the most knowledge – for time and chance may ov[...]