Standing in California Trust & Estate Cases | The Officious Intermeddler
I think that it was the first or second week of law school when I first heard the term “officious intermeddler.” I kind of remember looking around the classroom to see if anyone else looked as baffled as I felt. To me, it sounded bad, whatever it was.
In the coming days we went on to learn its meaning and for the most part forget about it after our exams. Now, some 45 years later, I’ve found the term and its significance to be meaningful.
So, according to one legal dictionary an officious intermeddler is a “person who does something to benefit another without being requested or legally obligated to do so, and is therefore not entitled to seek compensation for his or her actions.” This sounds a little legalese. Let’s think of some examples.
You’re on your way to a meeting, stopped at a stoplight, and a pedestrian comes over to your car, sprays water on the windshield, wipes it off and puts his hand out for payment. Now, you didn’t’ ask the pedestrian for the windshield cleaning, however pristine or pathetic it turns out to be, and you don’t have to pay for it.
I experienced a bit of this in Rome. Standing with my wife at the Trevi Fountain and admiring its beauty, a street vendor comes up to me and pushes a rose into my hand. The vendor (I use the term loosely) immediately demands money. I didn’t ask for the rose. Didn’t want the rose. Didn’t want to pay for something that I didn’t ask for or want. I didn’t pay. I just didn’t feel like being ripped off – despite the vendor’s hounding.
A similar thing happened when I was much younger in Mexico City. I’m waiting to go into a restaurant and out of nowhere an officious intermeddler (really a young kid) throws tar on my shoes, starts to clean the tar off, and demands payment for the cleaning. I paid.
It was a choice of walking around with tar on my shoes or giving up a dollar. So, how is it that a windshield entrepreneur, rose peddler and tar tosser figure into my little presentation on officious intermeddlers?
They surely share one thing in common – they didn’t deserve payment. They also share some impertinent, brazen, audacious (you can see I don’t like it) conduct. I’ve seen some similar conduct in the world of law having to do with the legal concept of standing. In legal terms “standing” is a requirement that the plaintiff, the one bringing the lawsuit, establish an entitlement to judicial action, separate from proof of the substantive merits of the claim advanced.
More legalese. What does this really mean? It means that if you’re going to bring a lawsuit, that you should have some personal right to ask for the intervention of the court. Let’s think of a few examples.
Long ago my brother-in-law bought a home in Sacramento and found that his adjoining neighbor had built a fence twenty or so feet onto my brother in law’s property. My brother-in-law asked me about it. I told him the law, and he dealt with it.
Now, what if instead of telling him the law, I’d said, “Don’t worry – I’m a lawyer; I’ll take care of it!” And, the way that I took care of it was to file a lawsuit naming me as a plaintiff and my brother in law’s neighbor as a defendant.
So, going to court, I’d get to explain how the neighbor did wrong by putting a fence on my brother in law’s property. And the judge would ask me whether he somehow misunderstood what I said. “Your brother in law’s property?” “Yes,” I proudly proclaim – aware of my heroism. The judge would note that I didn’t own the impaired property and I didn’t have any right whatsoever to bring an action against my brother in law’s neighbor.
If people had such rights, then anyone could sue anyone for any wrong. This is called “standing.” This arises in the context of estate and trust litigation. Sometimes people bring actions in which they have no standing at all.
A “friend” of the decedent brings an action against an heir claiming the he and the decedent were good friends and that he should have received the decedent’s assets. A neighbor claims that he and the decedent were really close, and that the decedent always wanted him to have the house. The decedent dies without a will and the house goes to his heirs. The neighbor has no standing to make a claim into the estate.
When it comes to estate and trust rights, it helps to know about standing. It’s our job to know about this.
Hackard Law represents clients in significant estate and trust cases where we think that we can make a substantial difference and there is a responsible party who can be made financially accountable for his actions. We litigate in most of California’s major urban counties including the Bay Area – Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco. We also litigate in Los Angeles and Sacramento.
If you have an estate and trust case and you want to know about whether you have standing, call us at Hackard Law: 916 313-3030.
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