Trusts & Estates Bulletin

A Compendium of Recent Cases

  Brought to you by LACBA's Trusts & Estates Section  *  Volume IV, Number 12  *  August 2009 
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Case Summaries

Trusts & Estates Bulletin is published monthly by the Trusts & Estates Section, Co-Editors:
- David C. Nelson, Loeb & Loeb LLP,,
- Amy L. McEvoy, Sheppard Mullin,
- Nelson J. Handy, Fiduciary Law Services, Inc.,



A Compendium of Recent Cases

Cases appear in chronological order, with the oldest case appearing first.

-Trusts and Estates-
Probate court incorrectly applied a preponderance of the evidence standard of proof instead of the clear and convincing evidence standard to petitioner’s claim that he was decedent’s natural son and sole intestate successor.
     Estate of Chambers - filed July 9, 2009, Second District, Div. Eight
     Cite as 2009 SOS 4229

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  -Trusts and Estates-
Where documents for "top hat" pension plan--an unfunded plan limited to key executives of the sponsoring company, which was governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974--gave the plan administrator discretionary authority to interpret plan terms, abuse of discretion was the proper standard with which to review administrator’s conclusion that former executive’s second wife should be treated as survivor beneficiary, especially absent a financial conflict of interest that influenced the administrator to favor one result over another. Plan administrator did not abuse its discretion in rejecting first wife’s claim for survivor benefits where administrator’s interpretation of ambiguous term in plan document was reasonable.
     Sznewajs v. U.S. Bancorp Amended and Restated Supplemental Benefits Plan - filed July 13, 2009, Fifth District
     Cite as 07-16489
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-Trusts and Estates-
Trial court order removing counsel, based on erroneous legal conclusion that counsel had a conflict of interest, was not entitled to deference. While an attorney may have liability to an intended beneficiary of a will who, because of the attorney’s error, does not receive a bequest that testator had intended to grant as a result of negligent performance of a contract, such potential negligence liability does not bring third-party beneficiaries of a contract to draft a will into an attorney-client relationship. An attorney who has drafted a will is not bound to a beneficiary by the duties of an attorney to a client because beneficiary is not a client and does not become a successor client just because the will becomes irrevocable upon testator’s death. Attorney for executor does not have a conflict of interest merely because he represents one beneficiary of a will in a dispute with another beneficiary unless such representation presents a conflict between the executor and the represented beneficiary.
      Baker Manock & Jensen v. Superior Court (Salwasser) - filed July 22, 2009, Fifth District
      Cite as 2009 SOS 4477
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-Trusts and Estates-
Standards of professional responsibility prepared by the State Bar are not regarded as court orders or local rules for purposes of awarding sanctions, and trial courts do not have responsibility to directly enforce these rules, even when violations of court orders are alleged, since disciplinary authority is lodged in the Supreme Court, which has delegated it to the State Bar Court. Where probate courts issued an order appointing attorney, and court-appointed attorney requested that other attorneys in case make contact with client only though her, violations of that request would amount to violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, not of a court order. Probate court’s determination that counsel’s disregard of such a request by court-appointed attorney justified setting a sanctions hearing and finding that counsel had violated a court order was incorrect and exceeded probate court’s discretion.
      Conservatorship of Becerra - filed July 28, 2009, Fourth District, Div. One
      Cite as 2009 SOS 4538

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Los Angeles County Bar Association
2008-09 Trusts and Estates Section Newsletter
Amy L. McEvoy, Co-Editor,  David C. Nelson, Co-Editor,    Nelson J. Handy, Co-Editor

Jonathan L. Rosenbloom

Nelson J. Handy

Stuart D. Zimring

Stuart D. Zimring

Immediate Past-Chair
Laura Conti

Section Administrator
Elise Green


Michael A. Abraham
Jackson Chen
Susan J. Cooley
Kenneth A. Feinfield
Sibylle Grebe
Samuel D. Ingham III
Susan Jabkowski
Jane E. Kwon
Jamie Lee Kim

Kira S. Masteller
Amy L. McEvoy
Matthew W. Mc Murtrey
Nicole M. Pearl
Jacqueline Real-Salas
David P. Schwartz
Leigh A. Shipp
Gabrielle A. Vidal

Barristers Liaison, Laura Narimatsu Wasserman
Liaison Beverly Hills Bar Association, Trudi Sabel Schindler
Liaison Public Interest, Yolande P. Erickson
Ex Officio, James R. Birnberg
Ex Officio, Thomas H. Kenney
Ex Officio, Gary M. Ruttenberg

Readers are advised that changes in the law may affect the accuracy of this publication or the functionality of links after the publication date.
The foregoing practice tips were prepared for information purposes only.  Such practice tips do not constitute tax, legal or other advice and no responsibility is assumed for any reliance upon them or with respect to assessing or advising the reader as to tax, legal, or other consequences arising from a particular situation. The accuracy of the information provided should be independently verified by the reader and should not be treated as authoritative.