Riverside Will and Trust Litigation Attorney
Something interesting to note: Mr. Sandoval was recently quoted in a Wall Street Journal article dealing with a rise in elder financial abuse and how it may be tied to the economic downturn.
Will and Trust Contests
Our law firm only handles three types of litigation matters: (1) tax controversy matters, (2) select Will and trust contests and elder financial abuse cases, (3) and contested conservatorships.
Will and Trust Contests typically involve either a claim that the decedent lacked capacity to execute the documents in question, the decedent was the subject of undue influence, or both. These two causes of actions can sometimes be enhanced by claims of elder abuse, which—if found by the court to exist—can lead to awards of attorney fees and enhanced damages.
The standard for executing a Will is rather low – the person must have mental capacity to understand (1) the nature of the testamentary act, (2) the nature of the property owned by the person, and (3) his or her relationship to living descendants, spouse, parents, and other persons whose interests are affected by the Will. Just because an individual has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia does not mean that the person lacked capacity to execute a Will or trust, but it does raise concerns about whether the person understood what he was doing at the time he executed the Will, trust, or deed—as well as raising concerns regarding susceptibility to undue influence.
Undue influence is defined as (1) the use by a trusted person of such trust or confidence for the purpose of obtaining an unfair advantage over the senior, (2) taking advantage of another’s weakness of mind, or (3) taking grossly oppressive or unfair advantage of another’s necessities or distress. The legislature recently added new laws to the California Elder Abuse and Dependant Adult Civil Protection Act allowing for a claim of elder financial abuse where undue influence has been proven.
Four cases that our office handled in the past few years are representative of the type of cases we will take on:
- The first case involved a daughter who provided substantial care to her father in the final four or five years of his life. The father lived with the daughter in a home he purchased. The daughter gave up work to care for her father on a full-time basis and the father paid all of the daughter’s living expenses while she cared for him. About two years before he died, the father amended his trust to give his daughter the home they shared and a greater percentage of other trust assets to the daughter, thereby reducing the share his other children would receive. After his death, one of the children brought a lawsuit, alleging the father lacked capacity, undue influence by the daughter, and elder financial abuse. After about a year of discovery work and the taking of our client’s deposition by opposing counsel, our office was able to convince the child’s attorney that he had no case and the expense of an actual trial was avoided.
- The second case was a similar situation to the first case where a daughter who lived with her parents for many years managed to convince her mother (the father had died a number of years earlier) to change her trust to give almost all her assets to the one daughter. In this case, however, we represented the daughter who had been essentially disinherited. The disinherited daughter did not believe it was her mother’s intent to disinherit her, and she hired our law firm to challenge the validity of the trust amendment and allege the undue influence of the daughter who lived with the parents. After about a year of discovery work and a full day of mediation, the case was settled with all the assets being divided equally between the two daughters.
- The decedent in the third case lived with his “girlfriend” for a number of years. They never married and they never had any children together. The decedent was a real estate developer and had many joint business dealings with his brothers. The decedent had a net worth in excess of $10 million. Shortly before his death, the “girlfriend” took the decedent to see a preacher/spiritual and motivational speaker/attorney who prepared a flawed estate plan which referred to the couple as being married. The estate plan left everything to the “girlfriend.” Our law firm was hired to represent the brothers in a challenge of the validity of the estate plan and to allege that the decedent was subject to the undue influence of his “girlfriend” due to his ill health and the amount of pain medication he was receiving at the time the estate plan was prepared. After more than a year of discovery, deposition of multiple parties, and a full day of mediation, the case was resolved with our clients receiving a multi-million dollar settlement.
- The fourth case involved a son who was an “estate planner.” The son worked with a firm that mass produced estate plans (click here to learn more about “trust mills”). The son had the firm produce an estate plan for his father that appointed him as trustee and gave a disproportionate amount of the father’s estate to the son. The son also had the estate plan drafted to disinherit an adopted child, alleging that the father did not want to leave anything to a child who was not a “blood relative.” After the death of the father, it was discovered that some assets were not properly transferred to the trust and the son forged his deceased father’s signature in order to obtain these assets. Our law firm was hired to challenge the validity of the trust, allege undue influence and fraud, and pursue enhanced remedies under the elder financial abuse statutes. After a four day trial, the judge ruled in our client’s favor on all counts. Not only was the “bad” son disinherited as the result of having been found to have engaged in elder financial abuse, he also was ordered by the judge to pay our law firm’s attorney’s fees and punitive damages for having fraudulently transferred the non-trust assets.
Our law firm represents executors and trustees, as well as beneficiaries, in Will and trust disputes. Call our office at 951-787-7711 to schedule a free one hour consultation to see whether we might be able to assist you with your disputed matter.
When a senior loses capacity and can no longer manage his or her financial affairs, often a conservatorship is the only option available. For more information on conservatorships, click here. Unfortunately, there are many times when family members and friends cannot agree regarding who should be the person to manage the finances. This is often the result of perceived abuses by others of one or more of the persons being nominated. Also, the senior will sometimes object to the conservatorship being put into place. In these cases a trial may be necessary to resolve the matters of whether a conservatorship is needed and who should serve as the conservator of the estate, conservator of the person, or both.
If you need assistance with establishing a conservatorship or want to contest a conservatorship proceeding, you can call our office at 951-787-7711 to schedule a free one consultation to discuss the matter.