Proper estate planning is key to protecting your assets from those who might take advantage of you, both during and after your lifetime. One all-too-common situation faced by individuals is the presence of home caregivers who might take advantage of their elderly charges. In some cases, it may fall to the executor or trustee named in the person’s estate planning documents to recover money improperly obtained by such caregivers and their associates.
Lintz v. Ramirez
A recent California case dealt with just such a situation. This case is discussed here as an illustration only and should not be considered a definitive statement of California law. The deceased in this case was Ruth Moynes, who died in 2006 at the age of 100. Moynes did not appear to have any blood relatives, but she was close with the family of Lynn Lintz. In 1994, Moynes executed an estate plan that included a living trust and what’s known as a “pour-over” will. Upon her death, any assets remaining in Moynes’ probate estate would be automatically transferred to the trust. Lintz was named executor of the will and successor trustee and sole beneficiary of the trust.
While individuals who make living trusts often transfer their homes into such trusts, that was not the case here. In 1970, Moynes transferred title to her home in Dale City to Lintz’s parents. Subsequently, in 1979, they transferred title back to Moynes, granting her a “life estate” in the property. That meant that upon Moynes’ death the property would revert back to Lintz’s parents. (Lintz’s mother died in 1998, but her father was alive when Moynes died in 2006.)
From 1997 until her death, Moynes employed a professional caregiver, Ruby Waltrip. In 2005, Moynes purportedly signed a “typed, notarized letter of consent” to sell her Dale City house to Waltrip’s daughter, Marilu Ramirez. The sales price was more than $100,000 below the estimated market value of the house. Ramirez later said Moynes was concerned about having enough cash to provide for her living expenses.
That sounds suspicious enough. What was even more suspect was a number of joint bank accounts established in the name of Moynes and Waltrip, the caregiver, with only Moynes’ assets financing the accounts and Waltrip making tens of thousands of dollars in unexplained withdrawals. Simultaneously, those same withdrawals were turned around and deposited in Ramirez’s personal checking accounts. Clearly, mother and daughter were working together to deprive Moynes-and her future estate-of assets.
After Moynes’ death, Lintz, as the executor and sole beneficiary of the estate, sued to recover the money taken by Waltrip and Ramirez. A trial court eventually entered a $1.25 million judgment in Lintz’s favor. The court of appeals affirmed the verdict. Not only was this a case where Waltrip and Ramirez exercised “undue influence” over Moynes, California probate law prohibits “donative transfers” of property from a dependent adult to a “care custodian” or any of her blood relatives.
This was a case where proper estate planning helped expose wrongdoing. Moynes named an executor who vigorously pursued the fraud committed by Waltrip and Ramirez. Had Moynes died without a will, it’s not clear who would have managed her estate. In dealing with your own future estate, it’s imperative you work with an experienced California estate planning attorney to name trustworthy fiduciaries who will protect your property and dispose of your affairs as you wish. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady in San Diego today if you have any questions.