homeaboutcontact
 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Probate Battle Involving Heirs Of Book Author And Undue Influence Allegations Settles After Two Years And On Eve Of Trial

A notable probate battle in Vermont has settled just before trial was to start after a 2½-year-old fight among the heirs of children's book author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. The estate was worth $2 million. Ms. Tudor, 92, died in 2008 of complications from a series of strokes. The settlement agreement was confidential and not filed with the court.

The fight was over the legitimacy of the will and the key issue was whether Ms. Tudor was unduly influenced when she rewrote it to give nearly everything to her oldest son.

Although this case is not in California, it highlights trends we see in cases here in California. First, given the cost of probate litigation and the risks involved, most cases settle before trial. With a $2 million estate, a significant amount of the estate can be consumed in legal fees over a two-year period. It is important to analyze legal expenses and costs as part of the business side of evaluating whether it makes economic sense to proceed to trial.

Second, there is an increase in probate litigation given the economic and housing crisis with some heirs not willing to settle for less and with real estate prices being depressed. Third, when wills or trusts are changed to leave out other children -- it increases the likelihood of probate litigation unless the changes are well documented and planned.

Ms. Tudor, who quit school after the eighth grade, won a worldwide following with her whimsical watercolors and drawings in "Pumpkin Moonshine," ''Corgiville Fair," and "Little Women," among nearly 100 children's books she illustrated or wrote. Ms. Tudor celebrated old-fashioned family life at home, becoming known for her anachronistic lifestyle — often going barefoot, wearing vintage dresses or making linen for her own clothing and living in a replica of an 18th-century New England farmhouse built by her sons, in Marlboro, Vt.

Her 2001 will requested that her cremated remains be buried with her beloved predeceased Corgis and the ashes of her pet rooster. It left her copyrights and most of her assets to sons Seth Tudor and Thomas Tudor and Seth's son, Winslow Tudor, giving only $1,000 each to daughters Bethany Tudor and Efner Tudor Holmes.

But an amended 2002 version cut out Thomas, save for an antique highboy, because of his "estrangement" from his mother. Thomas contended his brother wielded undue influence over their mother and that there are suspicious circumstances surrounding the changes in the will.

Posted by Henry (Hank) J. Moravec, III, a partner at Moravec, Varga & Mooney, A Partnership. For a free 30 minute consultation (telephonic or in person), you can e-mail Hank Moravec at hm@moravecslaw.com or call him at (626) 793-3210 or (818) 769-4221.

He focuses his practice on Probate Litigation, Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Administration, Beneficiary and Trustee Representation, Tax Law, and Nonprofit Law. He represents clients throughout Southern California and his offices are conveniently located for clients in the Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

With respect to probate, Hank Moravec has over 20 years' experience as one of the best Los Angeles probate attorneys and Los Angeles probate litigation attorneys and is available should you need legal advice regarding your own or a family member's situation. For a consultation, You can e-mail Hank Moravec at hm@moravecslaw.com or call him at (626) 793-3210 or (818) 769-4221 to request a consultation.

The firm website is http://www.moravecslaw.com/. The firm has two offices and consultations and meetings can be held at either office.

The San Gabriel Valley office is located at 2233 Huntington Drive, Suite 17, San Marino, California 91108. There is ample free parking adjacent to the firm's office.

The San Fernando Valley office is located at 4605 Lankershim Boulevard, Suite 718, North Hollywood, California 91602-1878.

Monday, November 1, 2010

NYT Article On Competency: "Money Woes Can Be Early To Alzheimers" And How This Effects Deciding When A Client Lacks Capacity


The New York Times recently had an article entitled "Money Woes Can Be Early Clue To Alzheimers" which is a case study on why early estate planning and having powers of attorney in place before there are competency issues is important -- especially to avoid later charges of undue influence and competency. It also raises the issue, however, of “What do we mean when we say someone has enough decision-making capacity to be ‘competent’?" The issue promises to become even more complicated as researchers and doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s earlier and earlier.


The article notes that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the largest nongovernmental regulator for securities firms doing business in the United States, recently met with individual financial services companies and the Alzheimer's Association to formulate guidelines on how to deal with clients who have trouble remembering and reasoning, a problem that is not new but is increasing as the population ages.


On one hand, it is generally agreed that decisions by a competent adult should be respected. On the other hand, if new brain scans and other methods show signs that a person is developing dementia, does that mean the patient should be watched, or that there should be limits on his or her abilities to make financial or legal decisions?


The article cites experts who say confusion over money and finances is perhaps the most important and most predictable early functional change as people descend into dementia. For lawyers, the main question is at what point a client lacks the capacity to execute a will, trust or other document, and who decides when that point has been reached. And if a lawyer lets a client go ahead, will the document be challenged?


The American Bar Association's Commission on Law and Aging created guidelines on this issue in 2005 entitled "Assessment of Older Adults With Diminished Capacity." The guidelines that include warning signs of diminished capacity, like memory loss and problems communicating and doing calculations. The guidelines instruct lawyers to look at the legal requirements for capacity in specific situations, like making a gift. Courts are always struggling to come up with principles and definitions of capacity and definitions of capacity vary among the states.

With respect to probate, Hank Moravec has over 20 years' experience as one of the best Los Angeles probate attorneys and Los Angeles probate litigation attorneys and is available should you need legal advice regarding your own or a family member's situation. For a consultation, You can e-mail Hank Moravec at hm@moravecslaw.com or call him at (626) 793-3210 or (818) 769-4221 to request a consultation.

The firm website is http://www.moravecslaw.com/. The firm has two offices and consultations and meetings can be held at either office.

The San Gabriel Valley office is located at 2233 Huntington Drive, Suite 17, San Marino, California 91108. There is ample free parking adjacent to the firm's office.

The San Fernando Valley office is located at 4605 Lankershim Boulevard, Suite 718, North Hollywood, California 91602-1878.