It's now 2019, and here at Hackard Law we are grateful for new challenges and new opportunities. 2018 was a year that kept us very busy - week in and week out, our attorneys fanned out across California to protect the beneficiary rights of clients in estate and trust litigation. Wherever possible, we'd seek a path to mediation as a way to pursue the client's best interests and minimize conflict. We've also been more active than ever in taking on perpetrators of elder financial abuse and holding them accountable in civil court.
Imagine taking a call one morning from your recently widowed mother to learn of her professed love for a Florida man whom she has never met in person.
Country music legend Glen Campbell, author of hits like Wichita Lineman and Rhinestone Cowboy, lived a long and fruitful 81 years. At the time of his passing away from Alzheimer's disease in August of 2017, he would leave behind some 60 studio albums as well as eight children from four different marriages. With royalties included, his estate has been estimated to reach a scale of $50 million, seemingly more than enough for all beneficiaries.
Persuasion "starts with a look in the mirror. If you do not know your own goals, biases, emotions and preferences, you cannot hope to see your audience clearly." These words from Richard Shell and Mario Moussa's book, The Art of the Woo, ring true for me. This principle is also well stated in Matthew Chapter 7, where we are admonished that it is hypocrisy to be concerned with the faults of another while we ignore our own more serious offenses.
California law provides that '"Financial abuse" of an elder or dependent adult occurs when a person or entity does any of the following ..." The statute goes on to list the actions that constitute financial abuse. The list is well covered in California's jury instruction covering the essential factual elements of financial abuse. For now, I want to focus briefly on the factors that go into determining who is a "dependent adult?" California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 15610.23 provides:
California estate and trust litigation is expensive. A common question from non-clients of law firms like Hackard Law that accept contingency cases is, "How much are you [the attorney] making in this case?" It's a good question and the response must be measured in both protecting the client's attorney-client privilege as well as providing a meaningful response if appropriate within the context of the question.
As an attorney who has spent many decades working in the area of trusts and estates, I wish I could say that it's possible to create an iron-clad trust document that will do precisely what the maker intended. Sadly, even when the best attorneys draft such documents for intelligent, practical, and thoughtful clients, there will always be unintended and unforeseen circumstances. That is especially true when there are blended families that may include ex-spouses, step-children, half-children, and unmarried partners. In such cases, Murphy's Law is almost certain to prevail.
Deathbed transfers of estate or trust assets can look suspicious, and there's good reasons why. The timing is off, to put it lightly, and the ailing maker of an estate or trust can be subject to undue influence. The tragic story of a professional football player's terminal illness and deathbed transfer shares key features I've seen in other litigation battles over a decedent's inheritance.
California heirs and beneficiaries expect that trustees, estate representatives and executors will act as good and prudent fiduciaries. When these fiduciaries fail and take money belonging to trust beneficiaries, they may be subject to civil and even criminal penalties. There are several cases in point.