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How an Estate Planning Attorney Can Help Protect Your Will or Trust

One reason to hire an experienced San Diego estate planning attorney is to help protect your will or trust from a challenge after your death. It is not uncommon for relatives who may feel entitled to a greater share of a decedent’s estate to claim there was fraud or undue influence behind an estate planning document. In some cases, an estate planning attorney’s testimony can to see that your will or trust truly reflects your wishes.

Court Rejects Nephew’s Challenge to Uncle’s Trust

Here is a recent example from a decision by the California Fourth District Court of Appeal, which has jurisdiction over San Diego and surrounding counties. This is an unpublished decision, so this case should only be viewed as an illustration of how courts examine probate cases and not a definitive statement of California law on the subject.

This case involves a challenge to a trust created by an Orange County man who died in 2012. Two years earlier, the decedent created a revocable living trust that became irrevocable upon his death. The trust was prepared by a local estate planning attorney following extensive consultations with the decedent.

The trust’s assets included a two-family property in Laguna Beach. The decedent lived in one house. The other was occupied by a couple who helped care for the decedent in his final years. In the trust the decedent said the couple “have been close to me for almost 30 years” and he treated them like his children.

The decedent himself had no children. His closest living relatives at the time of his death were a sister and two nephews. The trust made cash gifts of $10,000 to each of them. In the trust, he explained his sister “was almost 90 years of age” and in poor health. Consequently, he did not want to burden her with a large inheritance. Instead, upon the decedent’s death most of the trust assets would go to the couple he considered family.

This did not sit well with one of the decedent’s nephews. After his uncle’s death, he filed a petition challenging the trust. He accused the couple of “elder abuse” and asked a probate court to nullify the trust’s gifts to them.

The court rejected the nephew’s petition. The Fourth District affirmed the probate judge’s decision. The appeals court explained that under applicable California law, a “donative transfer” such as a gift in a trust, is presumed to be the product of “undue influence” when the recipient is a “care custodian” of the person making the gift. Here, the couple were not the decedent’s “care custodians.” For one thing, the decedent was not a “dependent adult.”

The Fourth District also said “substantial evidence” supported the probate judge’s overall decision. Among other things, the probate judge cited the testimony of the decedent’s estate planning attorney. Indeed, the attorney testified the decedent’s desire to leave his property to the couple raised “red flags,” and she took extra effort to ensure there was no undue influence on her client before drafting the trust according to his wishes.

Get Help With Your Estate Plan

After all, an estate plan should reflect your wishes, even if they do not make all of your relatives happy. A California estate planning lawyer can help protect your interests in this regard. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady if you would like to speak with someone today about your will or trust.

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