Trust Beneficiary Litigation | The Power of Stories
Hi, I’m Mike Hackard. I’m a trial advocate. I love what I do.
It involves people. Lives rich in humanity. In stories that touch us. That reach across generations. These stories have characters, plots and motives – and mysteries.
Trust beneficiary litigation often involves, in the eyes of objective observers, innocent people. People that did no wrong. We’re tasked to speak for them – to do so with respect and humility.
To take facts and work them into a compelling narrative. Not to exaggerate. To admit mistakes. To not promise that which we can’t deliver.
It’s so important that I listen. That we listen. People make mistakes. Our clients make mistakes. Serious trust beneficiary litigation involves more than mistakes.
This is my case list. It’s full of stories. Of mistakes. Of betrayals. We all know that betrayal is something different than a mistake. I’ll mention a few. I’ll change some of the facts to protect privacy. But I hope that I won’t change the point.
A daughter removes her sick and failing father from his Los Angeles home to Florida. She hides his location from his other children. She changes the beneficiary of his trust to leave nearly $5 million dollars to her alone. Her father’s long held plan to split his assets evenly to his four children is changed with just a few signatures – her signatures – signatures as a trustee for her father’s trust.
Her father is dying. She leaves him isolated, in agony, in a hospital room. He dies. She has him buried.
She doesn’t tell her brother and sisters about his death. They learn weeks later from the cemetery. Their religious traditions, the religious traditions of their father, are ignored. Is this a mistake? Or is this betrayal?
A jury can forgive a mistake. How will they handle a betrayal?
A wealthy San Francisco widow dies leaving three children. An older son from her first marriage and two younger daughters from her second marriage. She names her older son as the trustee of her trust.
Trust assets includes her home in Presidio Heights and a Sausalito apartment building with 10 units. The assets are valued at $10 million.
The older son takes control of the trust at his mother’s death. He receives the income from the apartments. He uses the income to improve the apartments and his mother’s house. He believes that this will increase their rental value. And, it does.
The Trust brings in $200,000 per year. The Trustee is tasked with providing income to his half-sisters for their health, education, maintenance, and support. The Trustee thinks that his discretion is absolute. In his view, he can provide nothing or whatever he wants to each beneficiary.
The Trustee is providing funds equivalent to 25% below the poverty level for each beneficiary. One sister is a student at a Northern California community college. She is now living in her car. The other sister attends a New Mexico community college and is living with her boyfriend’s parents and family.
The Trustee has unfettered access to the trust funds and giving himself far more trust income than his sisters. Is this a mistake? Or, is this betrayal?
He was trusted by his mother to do the right thing. There is a right way and a wrong way. Which way did he choose?
We presented the facts to the trustee’s lawyer. We hoped that he would listen. That he would guide his client.
We got back his client’s message. He would not change his ways. We’re now asking a judge to decide.
The judge will listen to how our clients’, the sisters’ lives, were before their mother’s death. They were going to school. They had money for books. They had enough to eat. They could buy their own clothing. They lived in a nice neighborhood.
The judge will also hear how the sisters live now – after their mother’s death. One lives in her car. She doesn’t have enough money for books. Her diet is mostly fast food. She has no place to cook. The other sister lives with a nice family – her boyfriend’s family. She relies on their charity. She doesn’t have enough money to contribute to any rent. She does contribute to food. She feels humiliated.
Both sisters are humiliated that they have to go to court at all. To tell their stories. It’s embarrassing. This is not how they grew up. This is not how their mother treated them.
She’s gone now. And a half-brother sits in her place. He lives in a safe neighborhood. He spends the trust money in whatever way he wants. He hires expensive trust lawyers with trust money.
The stories that I’ve talked about will ultimately be told to a judge or a jury. Genuine human values will come into play. What actions will be praised? What actions will be condemned? It’s our job to deliver the story.
We represent real people with real stories in trust, estate, probate and catastrophic injury litigation in California courts. If you’d like to share your story with us, call Hackard Law at 916 313-3030.
Hackard Law: Attorneys Making a Difference.
Attorney Michael Hackard
Michael Hackard is a top rated “AV” for over 20 years (“AV Preeminent is a significant rating accomplishment- a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence.”). Avvo also ranks him with their highest rating – “ 10.0 Rating – ‘Superb.’” Michael is also a “SuperLawyer” – an honor reserved for no more than five percent of attorneys in each state. [ Attorney Bio ]
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