What Happens Next? Probate Division 2016

What happens next?

Hypothetical #1: An elderly woman wants to amend her trust. She has three adult children. The current trust specifies that the residue of her trust is to pass in equal shares to the three children. The proposed trust amendment leaves 97% of the residue, which at that moment would amount to about $5 million, to her new boyfriend and directs that the remaining 3% be divided equally among her three adult children. The attorney, who practices mainly in Family Law drafts the amendment and has the woman execute it. The attorney charges the woman $21,000 for his effort. A year later, the woman dies. Three months after that, one of the three adult children comes to your office for legal advice about whether the validity of the trust amendment may be challenged. As the attorney to whom the adult child has turned, what do you do?

Hypothetical #2: An elderly man, diagnosed four years earlier with mild cognitive impairment, has in recent months begun to decline rapidly. The man has an estate valued at about $20 million, with most of the assets, with the exception of a recently-purchased Mercedes 500S sedan, held in trust. The man’s three adult children agree that a conservatorship of the person is necessary. The man was just hospitalized with a broken hip. The medical staff will not talk to them about the man’s prognosis and care. One of the adult children comes to you. He says that he would like to enable his father to return home with 24-hour care. He says that the cost of about $20,000 a month will not be an issue. But he adds that a sister likely will insist that the father be placed in a care facility, where the costs will be about $5,000 a month. He also states that a sister has retained an attorney, who has a modest criminal law practice and who has accepted a retainer of $35,000, to file a conservatorship petition. As the attorney to whom the son has turned, what do you do?

Hypothetical #3: A husband and wife endeavor to raise responsible, independent, self-sufficient children. They are almost entirely successful. The eldest child, a daughter, attends a university in the Northwest, and settles there, embarking on a successful career with a high-tech company and raising a well-knit family of her own even while undergoing treatment for cancer. The middle child, a son, attends a Little Ivy, gets a law degree, develops a successful Probate practice in Northern Virginia, and settles into family life, with much of his time spent working with his wife to find the best care options for an autistic child. The third child, a daughter, returns to the Bay Area after finally leaving an abusive marriage, and settles into a routine of caring for her mother, who has remained in her home after the death of her husband of 50 years. The mother seeks to retain you to amend the family trust (which did not provide for the establishment of A and B trusts after the death of the first spouse). The mother wants to leave all of her assets (which including the home total about $2.5 million in rough valuation) to her youngest child. What do you do?

These basic scenarios occupied the attention of the Probate Department yesterday, do so today, and will do so tomorrow. For the year to come, Judge Ed Weil will continue to handle trials involving these type of situations. As always, most of the difficult work of the Probate Department will continue to be handled by Courtroom Clerk Shannon Perry, Probate Examiners Linda Suppanich and Erica Gillies, Research Attorney Janet Li, Bailiff Melissa O’Reilley, and Probate Facilitator Nicholas Vaca.