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[...]
Prospective clients often ask whether I’ve ever seen an estate or trust dispute like theirs. Case facts and wrongdoers’ actions seem so outrageous that aggrieved family members may think that their case is a “one in a million.” Of course, given the geographic and litigation scope of our practice, most cases don’t feel like “one in a million.”
An estate and trust litigation practice at times feels like an emergency room. While non-emergency physicians have little opportunity to treat high-energy trauma cases endemic to car accident injuries, emergency room physician see such cases with regularity since nearly 10 percent of all injury-related visits to the emergency room are due to vehicle collisions. So when people come to s[...]
It’s 2017. Experts estimate that California’s population is approaching 40 million. Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Alameda, Contra Costa and Sacramento Counties are a very significant part of our state’s annual growth. These are also counties where Hackard Law regularly litigates disputed trust, estate and elder financial abuse cases.
The breadth of our trust litigation practice in our nation’s most populous state provides a vista into what causes trust disputes to evolve into lawsuits. We receive dozens of calls from prospective clients every week. A significant number of these calls involve general trustee misconduct and more specifically trust and asset hiding.
The failure and refusal of a truste[...]
Your parents owned a business and real estate. They successfully managed the business for decades and built up family assets. They put these assets into a trust where they remained as trustees during their lifetime.
When they passed away, successor trustees took over. The successor trustees, through incompetence or even wrongdoing, are damaging your family’s economic heritage. They are failing to keep trust property separate and identified, they lack complete and accurate financial records, they are self-dealing, and they are failing to comply with California’s requirements for serving as trustees.
Your parents intended for you to benefit from their lifetime of work and planning. You can see that their efforts – their legacy –[...]
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[...]