We learn by stories. Given our law firm’s position and commitment to LA estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation, we hear lots of stories – stories that many times develop new chapters in Los Angeles County Superior Court. While I can’t reveal attorney client communications, I can take literary license to depict issues of estate theft and wrongdoing that we regularly litigate. In this spirit, let’s go back to June 2016.
My client, “Pamela,” calls me to tell me her 93-year-old “Aunt Martha” died earlier that day in Pasadena. Pamela is the closest living female relative to her aunt. Pamela drives to her Aunt Martha’s house later the same day. Aunt Martha’s caretaker is in the house and at first objects to havi[...]
When “an elderly person with a joint bank account dies, do the funds belong to the decedent’s estate or do they belong to the additional signer as a co-owner of the account?” A recent California Court of Appeal case held that “[s]ums remaining on deposit at the death of a party to a joint account belong to the surviving party . . . as against the estate of the decedent unless there is clear and convincing evidence of a different intent.” This is a basic or black-letter rule, a clear statement of the law. It is also a trap for those inclined to seize upon a seemingly clear explanation of the law that leaves no room for interpretation or nuance.
In estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation, dueling advocates argue ove[...]
Anxiety fueled by grief is a part of the inventory process of a decedent’s property. A family member is tasked by practicality, family consensus, or an estate document to gather a decedent’s assets. Some assets are obvious – a house, documented bank accounts and securities and onsite personal property. Other assets are more opaque – physically separated in a financial institution safe deposit box or a house or office safe.
Safe deposit boxes add a mix of mystery and distrust to disputed estates. Mystery enfolds the basic questions that heirs and beneficiaries of disputed estates strive to answer – questions beginning with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” and “how.”
Safe deposit boxes have long been regulat[...]
What happened to Mom and Dad’s house? We’re estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigators. We’ve heard this question asked of us time and time again. Why? Well, family house transfers are often ground zero for estate and trust fights. The facts change, but the parties, transfer techniques, and general family shock at learning of the living or estate transfers follow certain patterns.
So how do these house fights develop?
Your mom or your dad is a widow or widower. He or she lives alone or with an essentially dependent adult child. The adult child may be on a Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability program. Many times the adult child has an alcohol or substance abuse problem.
Your elderly parent is vulnerabl[...]
California superior courts have both probate departments and civil departments. Some cases may be filed in either the probate or civil department. There are also cases like financial elder abuse that may be filed in the civil department or the probate department. The probate department exercises jurisdiction over proceeding brought under the probate code. There is generally no right to a jury trial in probate proceedings.
On the other hand a plaintiff in a civil case has the right to try issues before a jury. This right is enshrined in our California Constitution that states “Trial by jury is an inviolate right and shall be secured by all ...” We file and try elder financial abuse cases in the civil departments of the superior court.[...]
As the largest city in California, Los Angeles is ground zero for theft from trusts and fraud against the elderly, also known as elder financial abuse. Los Angeles County is home to a large senior population, and by 2020 it’s set to increase by 43%. With this figure in mind, families must ensure that their elderly loved ones are safeguarded against exploitation and undue influence.
All too often I’ve seen cases of vulnerable elders who were tricked or pressured into changing their will or trust to overwhelmingly benefit one family member or an estate interloper. I’ve also witnessed how wrongdoers have hidden or altered estate and trust documents in order to hijack assets, property, and even entire houses that never belonged to them[...]
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[...]
Family members of elderly victims of undue influence - a phenomenon often connected with elder financial abuse - recoil in disbelief when learning of an elder's coerced gift or bequest property transfers. This disbelief gives way to hurt and outrage as the estate thief makes brazen, insincere and false claims to the estate. It’s our job as probate and trust litigation attorneys to systematically gather supporting evidence to overcome the actions of estate thieves. Developing these cases often depends on claims of undue influence.
"Undue influence" in California means excessive persuasion that causes another person to act or refrain from acting by overcoming that person's free will and results in inequity. California law considers a num[...]
Elder financial abuse is a serious crime that reverberates throughout our communities, and it's a growing problem across the state of California. When an elder's estate or trust is suddenly changed without explanation to produce an unjust outcome, an unscrupulous family member, caretaker, or other individual could be committing elder financial abuse, with the means of coercion known as undue influence. Elder financial abuse reveals itself through specific patterns and behaviors, and we can usually track a wrongdoer's steps toward gaining control of an estate. They'll employ all sorts of tricks and techniques to get their way: frequent visits, blandishments, and gifts (emotional manipulation) as well as isolation, outright intimidation, and [...]
Back in 1968, my college education began at Santa Clara University. Military service intervened, but since then I’ve regularly represented clients in Santa Clara County estate, probate, or trust lawsuits. When you’re facing an estate fight, you may find it necessary to hire a probate litigator for Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, or San Jose. Not just a California probate lawyer or estate attorney, but one who focuses on litigating trust disputes and elder financial abuse. That is, a trust litigation attorney who tries cases and goes to court for estate trials in the California Superior Court system.
Lawyers and law firms engaged in Santa Clara trust litigation are familiar with evidence, the discovery of evidence, the introducti[...]