The telephone call can be long or short. The message may be clear at the outset or only parsed out after a series of my seemingly unrelated questions. The caller’s emotions may be controlled or buffeted by a frustrating mix of disbelief and surprise from trustee mistreatment – even theft. The story elements are much the same – the caller is a child of a now-deceased parent who provided for the child in a trust. The trustee may be the child’s sibling, an appointed licensed fiduciary, a bank, or a securities company. Whoever the trustee is – the duty is the same – “The trustee has a duty to administer the trust solely in the interest of the beneficiaries.” In 2000 the United States Supreme Court described this duty:
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?
We start with noting that a living trust becomes irrevocable at the death or incapacity of its maker. New trustees are often appointed when the trust becomes irrevocable or when conflicts arise between a beneficiary and the trustee. Conflicts between former trustees and new or successor trustees often arise when the successor trustee requests some, if not all, documents in the possession of the f[...]
In any family there should be love, compassion and loyalty. Yet in just about every family there can also be estate fights. The problem with long-hidden family conflicts is that when they surface, it often seems too late for reconciliation. Secrets and untold stories tend to come up on deathbeds and ride in on the aftershocks of loss. From false promises to theft, the real question is not "Can this happen to you?", but rather, "Can you trust those you grew up with?" We all want to, but with trust lawsuits sometimes we learn the hard way that life isn't that simple.
Conflicts over trusts and estates can appear from nowhere; family members might never even realize they were deceived until everything they had expected as a lawful inheritanc[...]
Dysfunctional families seem part and parcel of probate, estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation. There’s no getting around it. Marks of such dysfunction include the assignment of blame, threats of exile or abandonment, dominant and subservient relationships, grudges, disloyalty, winner/loser approaches to conflict and fear of loss. Family members with active addictions - alcoholics and drug (legal or illegal) addicts are common participants in the drama endemic to estate and trust lawsuits.
So what should you expect when a trustee, executor, heir, beneficiary or elder financial abuser has a destructive addiction? You can start by assuming that the addict is in denial over his or her addiction issues and wrongdoing stemming f[...]
We want the professionals serving us to aspire to and act consistent with the highest ethics and standards of their profession. Doctors should “first do no harm,” lawyers need to be honest with their clients, themselves, courts and juries, and trustees who manage trust assets must be honest and loyal in their administration.
When trustees are not honest and loyal in administering a trust, they can be held liable to the trust for breaching their fiduciary obligations to the trust. California probate courts regularly address such fiduciary breaches in accounting and removal petitions brought by aggrieved beneficiaries against sitting trustees.
So what are some examples of fiduciary breaches? Trustee self-dealing; preparing false doc[...]
Antisocial Personality Disorder is a diagnosis assigned to individuals who habitually violate the rights of others without remorse. 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.
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 t[...]
Communities across California overwhelmingly support programs to prevent financial elder abuse and to punish those responsible for this offense. California law provides clear civil and criminal remedies to enforce the rule that elder financial abusers must be held accountable for all the harms and losses that they cause. In estate, trust and probate litigation, that means that predators can be made to pay for their wrongdoing in civil court.
Prosecutors enforce criminal elder abuse laws against abusers committing estate theft, embezzlement, forgery or fraud against an elder (a person 65 years and older). The estate and trust litigation attorneys at Hackard Law enforce civil statutes holding elder abusers financially responsible for assis[...]
Our team of attorneys at Hackard Law serves trustees and beneficiaries in trust and probate litigation cases, including accountings, trustee removal and surcharge petitions, elder financial abuse, fraud, concealment and conversion actions in California Probate Courts.
The process of representation is initiated by a preliminary review of our prospective client's case. A part of this review is securing an understanding of the terms of the decedent's trust (including all amendments), identifying the property and cash inflows and outflows from the trust, and scrutinizing end of life inter vivos and testamentary gifts to new friends, suddenly interested family members and/or care custodians.
We are regularly asked to review cases rife with[...]
Estate disputes are ugly – sometimes really ugly. So when trustees, beneficiaries, and heirs step into the fight, good counsel – that is, probate and trust litigation attorneys – should help their clients count the costs. Many times that is easier said than done. Given the complications of estate fights, estimating costs can be an elusive process.
One particular estate fight focused on the decedent’s domicile may become like a runaway train. Fighting estate battles in two or more states can seriously tax a trust, heir, or beneficiary’s bank account. The fight over of a decedent’s home may be protracted and susceptible to inconsistent state rulings. A person may reside in multiple states but only be domiciled in one. A Califor[...]
Hackard Law, a California law firm representing clients in trust, estate and probate litigation, is regularly called upon to enforce a wronged beneficiary’s right to an accounting from an uncommunicative, recalcitrant or duplicitous trustee. While California probate courts will follow the law and order a trustee to provide an accounting, this is only part of what is often necessary to safeguard the beneficiary’s trust interests and to prevent further harm to an innocent beneficiary.
Trustee actions leading to the necessity of filing a petition for a court-ordered accounting often include the trustee’s refusal to make trust distributions. Waiting on an inheritance is a continual source of frustration to estate and trust heirs or ben[...]