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What Happens When Children Manipulate a Parent’s Estate Plan?

Sibling rivalry is a natural part of childhood and growing up. When sibling rivalry continues into adulthood, it can have negative consequences for a parent’s estate planning. In some cases an adult child may even attempt to manipulate a parent’s will or trust to place his or herself at an advantage over a sibling.

Toxic Sibling Rivalry Leads to Court-Appointed Conservator

Such behavior may constitute elder abuse and require a court to step in. For example, an appeals court in Los Angeles recently upheld a probate judge’s decision to appoint a neutral third-party conservator for a woman in her 80s. The conservatorship was necessary, according to the court, due to her son and daughter’s jockeying for “position to control, manage, and ultimately inherit their mother’s assets.”

The mother has an adult son and daughter. According to court records, the mother once had “substantial assets,” but over the past 10 years, most of her property was transferred to her daughter. The mother initially executed a living trust in 2006, and over the years made a number of amendments. These amendments, according to the court, appeared to go back-and-forth, sometimes favoring her daughter, sometimes favoring her son.

By 2013, the daughter had regained control of her mother’s estate planning. The daughter was named the main beneficiary of her mother’s trust and other assets, including a $1.4 million retirement account. She was also named as agent under her mother’s power of attorney and advance health care directive.

The son eventually filed a lawsuit seeking the appointment of a conservator for his mother. Shortly thereafter, the mother purportedly signed a new trust disinheriting her son completely and proposing the daughter be named as conservator.

A court-appointed expert examined the mother and testified in court that a conservatorship was necessary. The expert said the mother “had significant memory deficits,” and medical testing revealed she likely suffers from dementia. Given this, the expert said the mother was not capable of managing her own finances and was “susceptible to undue influences.”

Several other witnesses testified as to the mother’s mental and physical state. There was also testimony regarding the siblings’ ongoing manipulation of their mother. The probate judge ultimately found there was “overwhelming evidence” of the daughter’s “wrongful conduct,” such as transferring her mother’s IRA to herself, which “caused potentially unnecessary tax liability.” All this, combined with the medical evidence of the mother’s dementia, justified appointing a conservator. Furthermore, a neutral conservator–someone who was not a relative–would be more likely to protect the mother’s interests than either of her children.

The daughter appealed the judge’s ruling, arguing a conservatorship would only cost her mother more money, but the California Second District Court of Appeal said “substantial evidence” supported the lower court’s decision.

Protecting Your Assets

Parents understandably want their children to get along. When they do not, the parent needs to ensure their own financial interests are protected. Your assets should never become collateral damage in a legal war between your own children. This is why it is important to work with an experienced San Diego estate planning attorney who will put your needs first. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady if you would like to schedule a consultation today.

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