Probate, Estate Planning and Trust Law
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San Fernando Valley Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

What is a breach of trust?

Those in Woodland Hills who have been asked to serve as trustees may be endowed with a significant amount of power regarding an estate’s assets. What happens if they abuse that power? As a beneficiary of a trust, you typically are required to respect the terms of the trust article regarding how assets are to be distributed. At the same time, you are also an interested party to the trust, and thus have a significant concern over how the actions of a trustee may influence your interest in it. Whether or she knows it or not, a trustee owes a duty of care to you. A violation of that duty could be justification for legal action.

According to Section 16400 of the California Probate Code, you, as a beneficiary, could consider any violation of a trustee’s duties to you as a breach of trust. Should such a thing occur, the solutions available to remedy such a breach are listed in Section 16420 of the CPC. They include:

  •          Compelling the trustee to perform the duties that he or she may be neglecting.  
  •          To enjoin the trustee from continuing to commit the breach.
  •          Compelling the trust to compensate you for the loss suffered due to his or her actions.
  •          To temporality shift possession of the trust property to another.
  •          To withhold or reduce the trustee’s compensation.
  •          To remove the trustee altogether.

Three tips to keep the peace during estate planning

For most of the world, the concept of family is as complex as it is comforting. Connected by lineage rather than some other frivolous method of selection, our families are important to us because they are typically the ones who care for us when we are sick, and the ones who will keep our legacies going once we pass away.

Nevertheless, no matter how close the family, making a plan for your assets can be one of the most difficult tasks for any family to complete. Below are a few tips to help keep the peace during estate planning.

Understanding who qualifies as a professional fiduciary

Several Woodland Hills clients come to us here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo claiming that those whom were entrusted with the management of an estate failed to uphold their fiduciary duty. If you also have such a complaint, then the first thing that you will want to establish is whether or not the person in question is considered by law to be a professional fiduciary. Knowing this will determine what sort of recourse you may have in holding that party responsible for his or her actions.

The exact definition of a professional fiduciary is listed in the California Business and Professions Code. According to the statute, such a classification is given to one licensed by the state who acts as a conservator to a person, an estate, or both for two more people who are neither related to each other nor to the fiduciary. One who is licensed to serve as an agent under durable power of attorney for either health care or finances, or as trustee to three or more individuals may also be considered to be a professional fiduciary.

Dealing with trustee vacancies

For those Woodland Hills residents who want to retain as much control as they can over the administration of their estates, it is often recommended that they take the steps necessary during planning to avoid the probate process. One way to do this is to place one’s estate assets into a living trust. One of the most important aspects of creating a trust is to name another to serve as trustee. Yet one thing that a grantor should consider is what would happen if, for some reason, the role of his or her trustee were to be vacated.

According to Section 15643 of the California Probate Code, a trustee vacancy would technically exist in any of the following scenarios:

  •          The person originally named as trustee dies.
  •          He or she either rejects the responsibility, resigns, or is removed by the court or the trust’s beneficiaries.
  •          The named trustee cannot be located.
  •          The trustee is facing an order for relief as a part of a bankruptcy.
  •          He or she is placed under the supervision of a guardian or conservator.

Steinbeck estate says author’s children are derailing adaptations

Oftentimes, the estates of Los Angeles County residents will include more than just property and monetary assets. In some cases, they may contain the rights to copyrighted works. The management of those works may be entrusted to a single heir of the estate. This could end up causing contention if outside parties approach the manager of those works seeking the right to adapt to new content. If and when this new content becomes profitable, a debate may arise over how the estate’s portion of those profits should be shared. The potential of another estate beneficiary granting the unauthorized use of the decedent’s works may also become an issue.

Issues similar to these have reportedly been plaguing the estate of the iconic novelist John Steinbeck for years. The late author’s third wife was initially made the primary beneficiary of his copyrights upon his death. Today, her daughter manages their access. Steinbeck’s son and daughter-in-law, however, have been reported to have given permission to filmmakers to adapt some of his works into movies without approval. Representatives of the step-daughter also claim the two had succeeding in sabotaging collaborative efforts between production studios and the estate in the past, with the most recent being an attempt to insert themselves into negotiations with DreamWorks on a proposed remake of “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Firm sues Michael Jackson’s estate for unpaid legal aid

One the main concerns that those who are asked to serve as executors to estates in Woodland Hills may have is dealing with the debts that a decedent leaves behind. The roles of the executor include identifying any outstanding liabilities and ensure that they are paid out of the estate’s assets. In the search for any debts that a deceased person still may owe, the issue of whether or not a debt account is actually valid may arise. If such a dispute does surface, the estate could become the target of a lawsuit from the creditor in question.

Such is the case with a London legal firm that recently filed a lawsuit here in California against the estate of the former musical icon Michael Jackson. The firm claims to have provided Jackson with legal advice regarding business interests he had in the United Kingdom immediately prior to his death. Firm representatives say that they did file a creditor’s claim for the more than $200,000 they say that they were owed back in 2009. However, repeated requests to the executors of Jackson’s estate were said to have been met with skepticism. Now, they are seeking the original amount owed along with interest and compensation for the legal fees associated with the lawsuit. Representatives of the Jackson estate claim the debt to be invalid and have stated their intention to challenge the lawsuit.

Three things you need to know about probate in California

When a loved one passes away, you may be tasked with the responsibility of executing their estate. In some circumstances, this may mean that you will need to go through probate to ensure that the assets are distributed according to your loved one's final wishes.

There are many misconceptions about the California probate process, and we wanted to take a few moments to discuss some of the most frequently asked questions that we receive at our firm. 

What are the qualifications to serve as an executor?

One of most important decisions that you may face during the estate planning process may be who you will choose as your executor or personal representative. You may already have a pre-selected candidate, yet before officially naming him or her as your personal representative, he or she must first meet a set of basic requirements set forth by the California Probate Code. Understanding what those are may not only make your choice of executor easier, but it may resolve any issues about your selection’s legitimacy should it be challenged once he or she is called upon to oversee the administration of your estate.

Per state law, your candidate for executor must meet the following basic requirements:

  •          He or she must be of the age of majority. This likely goes with saying.  
  •          He or she is a ward of the estate. Such a distinction may call into question his or her abilities to effectively execute the tasks associated with administration.
  •          His or her conduct would meet the requirements to be removed from the role of executor. These include being under suspicion for having abused, embezzled, or mismanaged estate funds, having demonstrated a neglect towards the duties of an executor, or simply being unqualified to handle such a role.
  •          He or she is not a resident of the United States. Special considerations are given, however, to residents of other states.
  •          He or she is your surviving partner, and one of the interested parties to the estate objects to his or her appointment as executor.

Addressing a murderer’s claim to an inheritance

The comical musing that one is in such a hurry to receive his or her inheritance that he or she is willing to kill for it is certainly one we’ve heard before here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo. Yet as silly as this idea may seem, enough validity has been attributed to the actual intent that language has been included in the California Probate Code addressing it. Thus, you may need to be familiar with it if you have been asked to serve as the personal representative or executor of an estate in Woodland Hills.

If one of the heirs of the estate over which you serve as executor is responsible for the death of the testator, he or she loses his or her entitlement to all of the following:

  •          Any assets contained in a will or held in trust that had been conferred upon him or her upon the testator’s death.
  •          Any property set to be dispersed through intestate succession.
  •          Any community property he or she may have been entitled to receive.
  •          The payout from a life insurance policy or bond.

Detailing how and why an executor may be dismissed

For those who are interested parties to an estate in Woodland Hills, the actions of the estate’s executor are of particular interest. Any missteps or mismanagement on his or her part could potentially impact the estate’s assets and property. Thus, it becomes important for such interested parties to know exactly what the fiduciary responsibilities of an executor are in order to know if one may be in violation of them.

The exact duties of an executor may be too complex to list here. However, The American Bar Association gives a good summary of what they may be. In short, an estate executor must make a full disclosure of his or her actions along with acting fairly in the interest of both heirs and creditors. While the duties given in this summary may be open to interpretation, California law lists specific scenarios where an executor may have created cause for his or her dismissal. These include:

  •          The executor not being qualified to carry out the responsibilities of the office.
  •          The executor willfully neglecting the affairs of the estate.
  •          The executor being under suspicion of or proven of wasting, mismanaging, or embezzling estate assets, or committing fraud against the estate.
  •          The executor’s removal being necessary to protect the estate itself or any parties interested in it.