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10 Things California Trust Beneficiaries Must Know

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If you are a trust beneficiary in California, you are the only person who can protect your rights under the trust.  Here are 10 things you must know to protect your rights as the beneficiary.

1. Know Your Trust

Read your trust as many times as you need to thoroughly understand it.  If you do not understand the trust, consult with an attorney.  The trust is what determines your rights and what you are entitled to receive.

2. Know What You Are Entitled To

Understand what you are entitled to and when you are to receive your distribution. Not all beneficial interests are the same.  Are you entitled to income, principle or both?  Are you the beneficiary of a specific gift or a residual beneficiary?

3. Ask for Information in Writing

As a beneficiary you are entitled to information regarding the trust assets and the status of the trust administration from the trustee.  You are entitled to bank statements, receipts, invoices and any other information...

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Top 10 Things California Successor Trustees Must Do

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If you have been named a successor trustee of a California trust, it can be daunting.  What are your duties?  What is expected of you?  What do you do first?  How do you administer a trust? These are all great questions.  Get a copy of the trust so you know what you are administrating.  To help you out, we have compiled a list of 10 things to do for a successor trustee of a California trust.  

1. Know Your Trust

Read the trust thoroughly.  As a successor trustee, you need to understand the trust so you know what you are administering.  Not all beneficiaries are treated equally.  Some beneficiaries are entitled to distributions earlier than others.  As the trustee, you must know what is owed to the beneficiaries and how the trust works.  If you do not understand the terms of the trust or how to administer the trust, consult with an attorney.

2. Understand Your Duties and Responsibilities

In addition to the duties and...

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The Trustee Won't Communicate With Me. What Can I Do?

I received a call from Jerry.  Jerry is a beneficiary of his parent's trust in Santa Clara County along with his siblings.  One of his siblings is the trustee.  Unfortunately, the trustee is not communicating with him.  The trustee refuses to communicate what the assets of the trust are, how the trust funds are being invested, how the house will be handled and what is happening with the trust administration.  The trustee knows Jerry has significant health issues and lives out of state.  The trustee probably believes Jerry is powerless and can't do anything because he is in charge.  A bad trustee uses his position of control to abuse the beneficiaries.  

It is not uncommon for a power hungry trustee to believe they are in charge and can do whatever they want.  They do not believe they owe anything to the beneficiaries and the beneficiaries are powerless to do anything to challenge the trustee.  After all, they are in...

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Can The Trusee Withhold My Distribution Until I Sign A Release?

As a trust litigator in Santa Clara County, I get this question often.  Recently, I was representing a beneficiary of a trust.  The trustee was represented by a large law firm.  The trust administration was complete and my client was anticipating his distribution.  I was surprised when I received a release from the trustee along with a letter stating that until the trustee received a release from all of the beneficiaries, the distributions would not be forthcoming.  The beneficiaries had questioned some of the actions of the trustee and the trustee was threatening not to distribute until he received a release from the beneficiaries.  A release can be called different things: trust settlement agreement, trust closing agreement, distribution agreement, etc.  A release, no matter what it is called, requires the beneficiaries to consent to the trustee’s actions and release the trustee from any liability. Can they do this? The answer is a...

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Help! What Can I Do If My Parent Is Being Manipulated To Give Away His Assets or Changing His Estate Plan in Santa Clara County?

These cases are the most difficult in California.  Even if you know your parent is being manipulated through undue influence, taking action can be difficult and complicated.  These cases are difficult because your only viable option during your parent’s lifetime is to file a petition action.  If you take this course of action, you have to win the conservatorship petition you may end up in a worse situation than when you started even though you were only trying to protect your parent.  In Santa Clara County and the surrounding counties, the property values are high and elders can be targets to unscrupulous individuals.  

There is no easy solutions for a child to take control of their parent’s assets.  Generally by the time the children know of the manipulation and want to take action, the bad influencer has already had the estate plan changed.  Generally, the trust will provide a way for the successor trustee to step in and take control...

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I Am The Trustee Of A Trust in Santa Clara County. Do I Have To Go To Court?

Matt is the trustee of his father’s trust in Santa Clara County.  His father has recently passed away and he has a document and does not know what to do next.  His two siblings have lots of ideas and thoughts about what Matt can and cannot do.  While Matt is appreciative of their advice, he has ideas his own ideas about what he should do.  He has looked over the trust and understands how his father wanted things to be distributed.  He is unsure of the process and does not want to get into trouble. Does he need to file anything with the court or go to court?

One of the advantages of a California trust administration is it is much quicker when compared a probate administration of a will.  Another advantage is the trust remains private as it not mandatory it is filed with the superior court or the county recorder’s office.  The trust is only filed with the superior court if the trustee or one of the parties file a petition to bring a trust...

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Is Going to Court Really Necessary? I Don't Want To Go.

For Melissa, it has been three years since her mother passed away.  Her mother's trust left everything equally between her two daughters: Melissa and Sarah.  The main asset of the trust is a house in San Jose, California.  Just prior to their mother passing away, Sarah moved into the house to help her mother.  Melissa was grateful Sarah was able to live with their mother and help her during her final days.  Now, three years later Sarah has remained in the house, is unwilling to move out and refuses to either sell the house or buy out Melissa's interest in the house.  Sarah was named as the trustee of their mother's trust and has refused to sale the home so the proceeds can be split equally between Melissa and Sarah.  This has caused a deep rift in their relationship.  Melissa wants to receive her share of the trust as her mother intended and Sarah is refusing to let this happen.

Melissa was near tears as she sat in the office explaining the...

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My Husband Died Without A Will And His Name Is Still On Title To Our House. Do I Need To Open A Probate?

The answer may be "no."  When I consult with a surviving spouse, I always consider a spousal petition.  It does not work in every situation. When a spousal petition can be utilized, it can be the most economic and effective way to transfer property to the surviving spouse.  

California Probate Code 13500 allows for property transferring to the surviving spouse without a probate administration.  This section allows for property to be transferred with or without a will where no administration is necessary.  If an asset is only in the decedent's name or titled in community property, then a spousal petition under Probate Code Section 13650 can be used to transfer the property to the surviving spouse.

The petition consists of:

  • Allege assets pass to the surviving spouse;
  • Describe the assets passing to the surviving spouse;
  • Describe why the property is community property;
  • Describe the facts should pass to the surviving spouse;
  • Names, relationships and...
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If I Did Not Do Anything Wrong Can I Be Sued?

A client sat across the table from me.  As he wrung his hands, he told me he had been sued by his brother.  My client was the executor of his mother's will.  He had not done anything wrong but his brother had sued him.  His brother alleged he breached his duty by accepting a creditor's claim. We reviewed claim and it was a proper claim to be accepted by the executor.  He just looked so defeated and could not understand how he can be sued if he had not done anything wrong.

Anyone with a court filing fee (or qualifying for a fee waiver) can file anything with the Court.  The Court does not make any determination about the merits of a case when it is filed.  I can file a suit alleging you stole my hippo.  I do not have to prove I had a hippo, you were seen around my hippo or what happened to the hippo when the case is filed.  Eventually I will have to prove my case and that is called a trial.  The jury or judge will hear all the...

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What Do I Need To Know If I Go To Pobate Court In Santa Clara County?

If you are attending Probate Court in Santa Clara County, the courthouse is located at 191 North First Street in San Jose.  Parking can be difficult so allow plenty of time for parking.  There is a public parking garage near the courthouse if you are unable to find street parking.  If you are able to find street parking, it will be metered parking.  Once you make it to the court house, you will need to pass through security.  Take the elevator to the fourth floor.  The Probate Court is currently held in Department 12.  

On the wall opposite of the double doors to the courtroom is a bulletin board.  The day's calendar is hung on the bulletin board.  For each calendar session, there is a listing of the probate cases to be heard in that session.  On the sheet of paper hanging on the bulletin board for the 9:00 calendar, there will be a  listing of cases that includes the line number, time, case number, name of the case and the...

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