You know, or you think that you know, that you’re a named trust beneficiary. You may be a little unsure because it’s not always easy to know or find out if you are a beneficiary of a family trust. Unless you’re a professional in estate planning and fully familiar with its basics, you are likely to have numerous questions. Among them: What is the definition of a beneficiary of trust? Is the trust irrevocable? Is the trust revocable? What are the shortcomings of an irrevocable trust? A revocable trust? Is an heir also a trust beneficiary? Is a settlor the maker of a trust? Is a settlor the same as a trustee?
So, let’s start with trust basics. Living trusts are becoming ubiquitous, even for the middle class.
Testamentary trusts are al[...]
A frequent issue arising in California estate and trust litigation involves joint accounts. Trust and estate litigators regularly address the common questions concerning joint accounts in disputed estates:
What is California law on joint bank accounts?
Does the form of ownership of joint accounts matter?
How does California treat joint savings accounts?
Does California freeze joint bank accounts when one person dies?
A recent California Court of Appeal case is helpful in explaining the law as to the accounts. For these blog purposes, I’ll draw from the case’s generalities and minimize some of its factual specifics. Ralph, the father of three daughters, passed away in December 2009.
A will, trust and joint bank account existed[...]
Alameda County represents most of the East Bay and is home to 1.6 million people. It’s California’s seventh largest county and includes the cities Oakland, Berkeley, Fremont, San Leandro, Pleasanton and Castro Valley. Alameda County also has plenty of Baby Boomers, with 12.7% of residents aged 65 or over.
Baby Boomers are the wealthiest generation in history. That means that there will be a massive transfer of wealth in the coming years as Boomers make estates and trusts for their loved ones.
Trusts are the most frequent method of wealth transfer for a wealthy estate. When circumstances are right, a trust maker will have property and assets transferred in an orderly manner to rightful beneficiaries. That’s the majority of cases – [...]
California’s median home value in September 2019 is $548,000. Bay Area median home values are even higher. As an example:
Fremont - $1,176,000;
Newark - $872,000;
Santa Clara - $1,396,000;
San Mateo - $1,513,000;
San Francisco - $1,421,100;
Redwood City - $2,688,000.
We have litigated trust beneficiary disputes over homes located in every one of the referenced cities. Experience teaches us that trust disputes involving the rights of beneficiaries and heirs to Bay Area homes are common and hard-fought. There is a lot at stake.
Homes are a target for those intent on estate undue influence and fraud. And, wronged and abused beneficiaries are not likely to walk away from the huge losses occasioned by fraud or undue influence.
The median value for a house in California is currently $548,000. When it comes to median home values for Los Angeles, the figures keep climbing. Let’s look at LA and some specific neighborhoods where we’ve protected trust beneficiary rights in litigation battles focused on the family home.
If we start off in Los Angeles proper, homes there go for an average of $618,000. A house in Pacific Palisades goes for just over $3 million. In Santa Monica it’s north of $1.62 million. Over in Beverly Hills, the median is $3.46 million. And in Thousand Oaks, it’s a level $730,000.
In all the areas I’ve just mentioned, we’ve litigated and resolved trust disputes over houses in the best interests of a beneficiary who’s been disinherited a[...]
You learn that you have been named as a beneficiary of a trust. Many questions come to mind. What’s next? What are my rights? It helps to start with a few basics about trust structures, their creation and their managers.
Trusts take many forms and are generally governed by the unique provisions established by the creator of the trust. The terminology of trusts can be confusing at times. For example, it doesn’t take long in exploring trust literature to see that trusts fall into different categories. There are (1) express trusts, (2) resulting trusts, and (3) constructive trusts. We’re going to focus on express trusts. Resulting trusts and constructive trusts have different principles and rules such that addressing them deserves separ[...]
Trust administration can be challenging. Layperson trustees are not really trained for the tasks. And, professional fiduciaries can occasionally go off track. Lack of transparency is an ignition switch for controversy. Controversy that can flame into expensive and emotional trust litigation. So, is it a good thing to avoid litigation?
Unquestionably. With this in mind, I’ll share some things that were catalysts for estate and trust disputes that we’ve litigated.
The seeds of controversy include a misunderstanding of the trustee-beneficiary relationship. The relationship is a fiduciary relationship. That is to say that the trustee, the fiduciary, has the duty to act for the benefit of the beneficiary within the scope of the trust relat[...]
Hello, I’m Mike Hackard. I am a California estate and trust litigation lawyer. I began the practice of law in 1976, and I’ve been very active to this day.
I want to discuss how assets pass on after we pass on. We begin by recognizing how different is the part played by our probate courts from that of automatic transfers on death. We can see these differences by telling some stories.
We in the United States have the gift of owning property. We have certain property rights and responsibilities associated with the ownership. For example, if we own a home, we have the responsibility of paying property taxes. We may also have responsibilities to homeowners associations. We own our cars and we also have the responsibility to license them.
Trustees assume many duties. Some wanted – some unwanted. Some pleasurable – some painful. Evicting beneficiaries out of trust property is among the most painful duties. The target of the eviction is usually a beneficiary living with their parent at the time of their parent’s death.
Or, a beneficiary who moves into the trust property after the parents are deceased. If that beneficiary also happens to be a co-trustee of the trust that now owns the home, the task becomes even more difficult.
So, how does this happen? It happens over the control of the family home – usually the most valuable trust asset. The home is often in the name of the parent’s living or revocable trust.
The parent is the trustee while alive.
For these purpo[...]
Beneficiaries and heirs of California trusts and estates face some daunting tasks if they’re looking to challenge partial or full disinheritance. The first task – that of retaining experienced and competent counsel - is accelerated by short timeframes unique to trust, probate and estate disputes.
California probate law is both complex and distinctive. Many law firms not focusing on this type of litigation assign estate planners with limited experience in handling litigation in the probate courts. On the other hand, civil litigators with limited experience in estates and trusts may be assigned and find themselves surprised by the particularities of estates and trusts contests.
Hackard Law focuses on contested trusts and estates. Our tr[...]