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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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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 Siblings and I Cannot Agree. Who Has The Right to Control The Final Disposition of My Mother?

Family disputes occasionally arise over funeral arrangements.  This may be due to family disharmony, religious, monetary, or other reasons.  If a dispute arises over the final disposition, the best thing to do is see if the matter can be resolved by settlement.  

If the matter cannot be resolved through a settlement or agreement, California Health and Safety Code Section 7100(a) governs who is in charge.  The following people, in this order, have the right to control the decedent's remains:

  • An agent under the power of attorney for healthcare;
  • Decedent's competent spouse;
  • Decedent's competent children;
  • Decedent's surviving parents;
  • The surviving adult persons in the next degree of kinship; and
  • The public administrator when there are sufficient assets.

If you and your siblings cannot agree on what happens to your mother's body and your mother did not have written instructions (and there is no surviving spouse), the majority of her children are in agreement...

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Is A Trust And Will Administration The Same?

There can be a lot of confusion when someone passes away.  When people call me to tell me about the will or trust mom or dad has left behind, many times they do not know if they have a trust or a will.  Many individuals who I speak with use the terms trust and will, as well as trustee, executor and administrator, interchangeably.  Trusts and wills are different.  However, both are used to distribute assets after a loved one passes away.  

A major difference is the process.  A trust administration does not require court oversight unless someone such as a beneficiary requests it.  If there is a will and a trust, many times a probate is not required.  If there is only a will, probate is required.  If there are no estate documents, a probate is required.

The main point of an administration of a will or trust is the fiduciary identifies and secures the assets, pays the expenses and distributes the remainder of the assets to the beneficiaries....

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What Is Income And Principal For A California Trust?

In order to be a legal trust, it must have property.  Trust property is separated into income property and principal property.  Many times a trust will specify who is to receive the income property and a different set of people will receive the principal income.  For joint trusts, when the first spouse passes away, the trust can restrict the surviving spouse's ability to access the principal of the trust and limit him to only using the income during his lifetime.  The principal is reserved for the children and to be distributed after the death of the second spouse.  This is can be in cases where the trust has income producing property such as rental income or generates interest or dividends.

Without any restrictions, the surviving spouse could use the principal and interest as he or she sees fit.  The distinction between interest and principal can get muddled at times.  Probate Code Section 16320 through 16375 sets forth the guidance...

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