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.
It's easy to believe at the beginning, middle or even long into a journey that we are "chasing the wind" - engaged in a futile task with nothing gained. This feeling easily accompanies an effort to reach out to people with video presentations. J.P. Mark, a noted research analyst and author of several books, captures this attitudinal predilection in his recently published article Making Magic: Why Lawyers (And Other Professionals) Don't Post More YouTube Videos. Mr. Mark notes:
Conflicts between stepmothers and biological children over estate and trust assets have become a familiar feature of litigation in California superior courts. Only a certain proportion of these disputes make it to the legal arena, but they're part of a continuing trend that's worth noticing.
The year 2018 has been a busy one for Hackard Law - we've been heavily engaged in California estate and trust battles on behalf of our clients, we continue to fight elder exploitation, and every week we respond to the inquiries of dozens of callers from across the state and the country. They contact us because they've seen our videos, they need help, and maybe they just to be pointed in the right direction.
Image Credit: Richard Wheeler
Over a year has gone by since my book The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse was published, and I'm happy to report that it's still making an impact in the fight against elder exploitation. Last week Portsmouth, New Hampshire's Sea Coast Online writer Elizabeth Dinan reported on a local case of undue influence featured in The Wolf at the Door and interviewed the man who stood up to stop it.
Estate planning is for the most part about earmarking a part of your estate for heirs, charities or others that you wish to honor with an estate gift. Baby boomers - my generation - are now spending more time thinking about and doing estate planning - if only to avoid potential litigation down the road.
Let me start with this - I am not a psychologist. I am a lawyer - a lawyer who at this stage of my career is heavily focused on estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation. So much so that I wrote a book focusing on estate and trust wrongdoing - The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse.