Probate & Estate Planning

I recently got to diagnose a new case that I thought would really speak to some of my readers. A potential client (we’ll call him Mr. P) called me about a case where his wife had died and he believed he was inheriting a property as her will left him everything she had. Certainly everything she had would include a piece of real estate in Los Angeles that had been paying them rent money for years, right!? During our first conversation I told him the first thing I have to do is check the title history to confirm how title…
When Dad bought a house solely in his name, can Stepmother claim a community property interest after Dad has died? Perhaps yes. The answer lies at tricky intersections of California probate law and family law. While family law governs spouses during their lifetimes and upon divorce, the death of one spouse complicates the picture. In Estate of Wall (2021) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento ruled that the form of title presumption prevailed over the community property presumption, and yet the surviving spouse still prevailed on a theory of spousal undue influence. Meet the…
California trust disputes often involve allegations that trustees should be removed and suspended because they are acting improperly or have conflicts of interest. Attorney Denise Chambliss, author of an informative article on trustee removal, spoke with me on Trust Me!, the podcast of the Trusts and Estates Section of the California Lawyers Association.  Joining us was Retired Judge Marshall Whitley, who handled many a trust dispute as an Alameda County Superior Court judge and now works to resolve conflicts as a full time mediator with ADR Services. With apologies to the Sound of Music, how do
August is national Make A Will Month, and a good time to make sure that your planning documents are in place.  Just under half of U.S. adults say that they have created a will or plan for how they would like for their estate to be handled after their death.  The Trusts and Estates attorneys at Weintraub Tobin have written frequently on this blog about the importance of having an estate plan, and about the difficulties (and even litigation) that heirs can face when a will is not in place. If you have not created a will (or if your…
There’s a saying amongst attorneys that “bad facts make bad law.”  By extension, “really bad facts” can throw probate procedure into flux by making it harder to qualify for an evidentiary hearing.  That’s arguably what happened in Conservatorship of Farrant (2021) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, a decision issued this month by the California Court of Appeal.  And make no mistake, the facts in Farrant were terrible. Farrant’s Really Bad Conduct In 2014, Duane Farrant’s 88-year-old mother travelled from California to Missouri, seemingly for a short, two-week visit with Farrant.  While there, she was diagnosed with major neurocognitive disorder and paranoid…
As trusts and estates litigation counsel, we often have matters where a fiduciary, either as a trustee, conservator, personal representative, or agent under a power of attorney, fails to provide financial information when properly requested, or to provide an accounting if one is required under law.  The result is that the person seeking the accounting may be left with no alternative but to file a petition with the court for an order compelling the fiduciary to submit an accounting, most commonly by requesting that the accounting be filed within the court proceeding. Frequently, the fiduciary will appear at the initial…
A lot of attorneys call themselves a “probate attorney.”  My question to you is: do you want a “probate attorney” or a “probate court attorney?”  My suggestion is you make sure you get a California Probate COURT attorney. I’ll tell you the difference and why it matters. At the time of writing this post I have been an attorney since 1994 – about 27 years! During the first 20+ years I considered myself a “probate attorney.”  I had probate court cases AND I also drafted wills and trusts… AND I did some conservatorships and guardianships… AND I did some trust…
While Disneyland may be the “Happiest Place on Earth,” a California probate court may be the opposite for a Disney heir, mused the U.S. Court of Appeals in Lund v. Cowan (9th Cir. 2021) ___ F.3d ___. Bradford Lund, a 50 year-old grandson of Walt Disney, sued the probate judge who rejected a settlement agreement that would have allowed him to access his approximately $200 million inheritance, and the federal appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The real drama has played out in the probate department of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Litigation there has spanned…
Fort Hayes State University in Kansas, home of the Tigers, almost lost a $20 million donation because of a forged codicil (amendment) to the will of Earl Field. Earl was a World War II pilot, successful businessperson, and booster of FHSU. He died in 2013 at the age of 98. The forgery was proven only after a murder-suicide of two key witnesses and a lengthy trial followed by an appeal. In 2019, FHSU was able to roar in celebration of the largest gift in its 117-year history. Hear the story of Earl’s will, and the broader problem of inheritance…
[Editor’s Note: Lauren Murvihill is a summer associate at Downey Brand. She is a student at UC Davis School of Law.] The thrifty do-it-yourselfers among us might jump at the opportunity to transfer their family home to their kids while avoiding probate and the expense of creating a trust.  Revocable Transfer on Death Deeds, or RTODDs, have allowed for this type of non-probate transfer in California since 2016. SB 315, now in the California Assembly having already passed in the Senate, will modify the Probate Code provisions that govern RTODDs.  The bill aims to protect transferors from vulnerabilities…