“To my family I leave nothing.” I wince at the words. I represent family members in estate battles. We focus on elder financial abuse, will contests and trust beneficiary abuse cases. And, I hear words like this all the time.
It’s one thing to hear them, another to feel them. My clients feel them. Hurt, devastation, and surprise are just some of the feelings. The quest for justice comes a little later.
Like in this case: I’ll call her Pam. Pam calls me. She shares her mother’s handwritten will. She also shares the story about the will. Sally, Pam’s elderly mother, penned the words in 2016.
Sally was not well. She was forgetful. Pam says her mom’s voice often drifted off in midsentence. And, Sally was isolated. Isolated from Pam, isolated from longtime friends. Isolated from everyone but Buster, her roommate.
It wasn’t easy for Pam to visit her mom – to overcome Sally’s isolation. Pam lived in Los Angeles and Sally lived several hundred miles north in Berkeley. Sure, Pam could phone. It was easy to dial a number, a lot harder to connect. Sally’s voicemail was always full, a barrier concocted by Buster.
Sally’s neighbors knew that something was wrong. They reported Buster to Adult Protective Services in 2015. Nothing came of it.
Pam visited her mom several times in 2016 and 2017. She suspected that Buster was committing financial elder abuse against Sally. Sally told Pam that her personal items were disappearing. She didn’t know why.
Sally forgot names of people that she’d known for years. She wouldn’t talk much. It seemed painful. Buster was always present when Pam visited. He wouldn’t leave the room. He made mother-daughter conversations uncomfortable. Pam felt like he was a spy. And, that he had something to hide.
Sally was able to make a few phone calls to her daughter. She wasn’t stopped by the hurdle of a full voicemail. Pam says her mom sounded disturbed and anxious. Pam kept an August 2016 voicemail from Sally. Sally declares, “I can’t stand Buster.” A few months later Sally left another voicemail: “Pam, I want you to take care of me.”
Sally dies in August 2018. Sally’s will, a big surprise, appears a month later. Buster files the will for probate in Alameda County Superior Court. The will names Buster as the estate representative. Buster gets the house. The house is worth a lot of money. It’s free and clear of a mortgage.
Pam’s grief is now joined with shock. It’s a blow to think that your mom disinherited you. Still, she knows that her mom was vulnerable to Buster’s influence. Her mom wasn’t herself. It wasn’t easy for Pam to call us.
She knew that litigation was expensive. She couldn’t afford an attorney’s hourly fee. So, we talked about how a contingency fee works. California has good laws that regulate contingency fees.
I tell Pam that any fee agreement that we have must be mutually agreed upon. The fee agreement is subject to our State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct. These types of arrangements will allow Pam access to justice.
We make a deal. We challenge the will. We sue Buster, on Pam’s behalf, for his elder financial abuse of Pam’s mother. Sally was vulnerable, she trusted Buster, Buster isolated her and made sure that everything that Sally had went to him.
Case discovery went on. The Court set a settlement conference. This is normal for California. And, the case settled. In California over 90% of civil cases settle. Judges point out that settlements reduce expenses, stop uncertainty, and are timely. People go on with their lives.
Still, not all cases settle. Settlements can also be painful. And, we prepare our cases like they won’t settle. We handle a lot of cases like this.
We focus on substantial cases where we think that we can make a significant difference. Pam’s case was substantial. There was a lot at stake, a house. We couldn’t have done it if it was just a fight over a tractor. And, there was a wrongdoer, Buster. We could seek to make him financially accountable for his wrongdoing.
We can’t do work everywhere in California. So, we focus our work in the probate and civil divisions of the California Superior Courts in Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa and Sacramento Counties.
If you have a case like Pam’s against Buster and you want to talk about it, you can call us at 916-313-3030. You can also email us at email@example.com If you want to know more you can also visit our Hackard Law YouTube channel.
We’re working to fill the needs of wrongfully disinherited heirs and abused trust beneficiaries. We hope that this helps you.