A Trustee’s Best Interest Duty in California

As a California trustee, you have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of your beneficiaries. This means that you keep the beneficiaries informed and that you put the interest of the beneficiary ahead of your own. “Best interest” varies depending on the circumstances of the trust. For example, in a declining economy, when real estate prices are declining, it may mean that the trust property should be sold faster than in prior times. Another example may be where there is a reverse mortgage balance remaining after death, the circumstances of the trust’s other assets, or lack thereof, may govern what you do with respect to the mortgaged property. In this blog post, we will discuss the four types of fiduciary duties of a California trustee and provide some tips on how to comply with them.

a. Informed decisions.

b. Considering the economic circumstances of the trust.

c. Seeking instructions when beneficiaries have conflicting ideas.

d. Maximizing income, when possible.

As a California trustee, you have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of your beneficiaries. This means that you are responsible for making informed decisions about the trust property, and taking into consideration the economic circumstances of the trust when making those decisions. Additionally, you must seek instructions from your beneficiaries if they have conflicting ideas or preferences. And finally, you must work to maximize the income of the trust whenever possible. By following these guidelines when making decisions regarding your trust property, you can be sure that you are fulfilling your fiduciary duties as required by California law.

Grandma sued grandchildren for financial elder abuse and won

WOSU reported an interesting story about elder abuse where financial arbitrators awarded grandma with $19M in damages against her grandchildren:

“Beverley Schottenstein, matriarch of the Central Ohio family that built DSW, American Eagle and Big Lots, is sharing her story of elder financial abuse in the hopes it will prevent similar crimes from happening in the future.

Schottenstein says two of her grandsons mismanaged an $80 million fund. Although the account didn’t lose money, she argues they left her out of the loop and made decisions that weren’t in her best interest.

“He said, ‘I’m too busy, I can’t talk to you now,’ that’s the remarks I got all the time. There was never a good conversation. That annoyed me very much. I never knew what the heck I had,” Schottenstein said on WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher.

In an arbitration ruling earlier this month, financial regulators ordered her grandsons and the firm J.P. Morgan, where the two brothers worked, to repay millions. The firm has fired both Avi and Evan Schottenstein.

Beverley Schottenstein says she’s no longer in contact with that part of the family.

“I thought these were my grandsons and they want the best for me, but they wouldn’t talk to me,” Schottenstein says.

Her granddaughter, Cathy Schottenstein Pattap, is now writing a book about the ordeal. 

Through their attorney, Avi and Evan Schottenstein declined invitations to appear on All Sides. A statement from their attorney said, “Although a fraction of the over $69 million sought by Claimant, our clients are disappointed by the result and believe it is not justified by the facts or the law.  The award is inconsistent with the substantial evidence presented at the hearing which showed that over the entire time Evan Schottenstein served as his grandmother’s financial advisor, Mrs. Schottenstein’s accounts profited by more than $30 million.”TAGS: BEVERLEY SCHOTTENSTEINCATHY SCHOTTENSTEIN PATTAPELDER ABUSEShareTweetEmail


The Schottenstein Family And Elder Abuse


A financial industry arbitrator in early February sided with Beverley Schottenstein in an elder abuse case, ordering her two grandsons and JP Morgan Chase to pay her $19 million.

Evan and Avi Schottenstein handled their grandmother’s fortune, valued at more than $80 million, until JP Morgan let them go. Through their attorney, they said they acted in accordance with her wishes”

Spousal Inheritance Rivalry

One of the most common battles in California probate revolves around spousal inheritance rivalry. What is spousal inheritance rivalry? A spouse’s competing interest in an estate comes in many different ways explained below:

  1. Competing over who should be an heir.
  2. Conflicts over who should be the executor or administrator.
  3. Competition between two people who both claim to be the spouse of the decedent. (yes, it happens)
  4. Conflicting interests among children as beneficiaries of life insurance, pension, or annuity v. the spouse.
  5. Conflicts about inheritance between a spouse of the decedent and a child of the decedent.
  6. Challenge by a spouse to community assets transferred by the decedent spouse to his children.
  7. Attempts to undo the beneficiary designations of community assets which have excluded decedent’s spouse (wife in most cases).
  8. Fights over whether the decedent intended to exclude his wife from his will or trust.
  9. Disputes about the characterization of a deceased person’s assets as community property v. separate property.
  10. Reviews of prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements for disputed issues regarding the right to act as an executor, or the right to be a beneficiary.

Probate Code 5020-5021 deals with non-probate transfers such as beneficiary designations. A spousal consent is needed when you change the beneficiary designation of a community life insurance or annuity to someone other than the spouse.


Some assets are passed to beneficiaries through various nonprobate devices such as via contractual means like beneficiary forms and beneficiary designations. A transfer to a living trust is also a nonprobate transfer, similar to a beneficiary designation of a life insurance, retirement plans, pay-on-death (POD) accounts, and annuity contracts.

A Community Property asset is an asset that is generally acquired during the marriage (Fam C §760), and each spouse has a one-half interest in them. Therefore, a husband who acquired the asset is required to designate a beneficiary of the asset in the event of his or her death which should be his spouse, when the property is community. California inheritance law requires that as to a community property, the other spouse must also sign a written consent to the designation for the death beneficiary designation to be valid (Prob C §5020; see §4.13), unless federal law preempts state law.  Such things as ERISA plans are governed by Federal law which preempts state law and statutorily requires the nonparticipant spouse of a retirement plan to sign a waiver if the named beneficiary is anyone other than the nonparticipant spouse.

If you don’t remember who you named as a beneficiary of your retirement plan, life insurance policy or other assets that have a beneficiary designation form, now is a good time to make a list and obtain the consent of your spouse, if you are naming someone else as a beneficiary.

Beneficiary lawyers advise clients about designations and their impact. Your beneficiary designation can be reviewed by an attorney who can advise you of your rights, as well as the rights of your spouse. Remember that a signed consent by a spouse as to a beneficiary form = no contest of the beneficiary form later.

Special Beneficiary Designation Problems: There are protective measures for a surviving spouse when a deceased spouse has changed the beneficiary of a community asset. We can help you recover those assets. Talk to us for help with your problem.

Let the expert beneficiary attorneys at Sirkin Law Group assist you with your spousal property rights questions. Call us in Los Angeles County California at 818.340.4479 or email us for a beneficiary designation consultation appointment here: [email protected].

Unique Rights of a Wife or Husband to Inherit from Her or His Spouse in California

California has some unique inheritance law when it comes to the community rights of a wife or husband to inherit from her or his spouse after death. Because California is a community property state, the surviving wife or husband has some advantages in inheritance law in this state.

How do you determine the inheritance rights of a wife or husband to community property?

Community property is generally the property or assets that are acquired during the marriage, except when its source is from a gift or inheritance. Same applies to rents and profits, depending on the time of acquisition and its source, with lots of exceptions and modifications. That being the general rule, our California Probate Code provides that if there is no will, the surviving spouse (here wife as an example) gets all of it or 100% of the community property. Our community property intestacy laws in Ca are intended to protect the rights of the surviving spouse.

But what about the rights of the children of the deceased spouse or children from the first marriage, if the deceased spouse has died?

If all the assets are community property, which is often likely in a long marriage, the rights of the wife who survived the husband, trumps the rights of the children from the first marriage, unless there is a will to the contrary. This is where must of probate or estate litigation occurs in California, especially in Los Angeles, land of second and third marriages.

One person asked this common question: My wife died suddenly and did not leave a will, do I get anything from her estate? The answer to that question depends on the types of assets, character of the assets, time of acquisition of the assets, and the source of acquisition of the assets. You also must look to see if there is a prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement that changed those rights. Sometimes, if there is a prenuptial agreement, the prenuptial provides for a certain sum going to the survivor and sometimes, the survivor has waived all rights to the inheritance.

Another person asked: “The kids from the first marriage are pounding on the door asking for their mother’s belongings. What should I do?’ First, you should inform them that their rights are protected by law and that once there is a probate or trust administration, you will give them copies of those documents so they can be assured of their rights. Cooperating at an early stage can often eliminate trust litigation or probate litigation in many cases. You then should arrange to call a probate or estate attorney to evaluate your estate documents and give you a list of what should be done next as the surviving wife or husband.

Remember that your duties as executor or administrator towards the children of the first marriage with respect to their inheritance has three sources: 1) The Will or Trust; 2) The Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement and 3) The California Intestacy laws which are set by statute and by the California Probate Code.

Why you should not take inheritance law into your own hands in California, and especially not in Los Angeles?

Taking inheritance law into your own hands often ends you up in Probate Court in an adversarial proceeding. We try to resolve any potential disputes via estate and trust mediation first. Do not make the mistake of thinking you can eliminate others’ rights. A wife, a husband or a child who has lost a spouse or parent, is very likely going to want to protect his or her rights.

Do you want to know how you can protect your inheritance rights in Los Angeles, California?

Call Sirkin Law Group, Mina Sirkin, Spousal Probate & Estate Attorney in Los Angeles County California to discuss your rights as a wife or a husband to inherit in this State. Call 818.340.4479 or Email our estate attorney at [email protected]. Our experienced family estate lawyers provide a free online, Zoom or telephone consultation. Get an appointment today.

Attorney for Aging Parents to Legally Protect from Elder Abuse

Many people who are over the age of fifty have at one time or another contemplated hiring an attorney to legally protect one’s aging parents. Elderly parents at some point during their lives need help and perhaps protection from others or from elder abuse.

Who should you protect your parents from?

You should consider the categories of people from whom your parents should be protected. Examples would be of persons who may be pretending to be friends of your parents while actively seeking their money. Others may be those who may be romantic interests of your parents. who may pose a financial risk to the estate of your parents. Romantic interests tend to appear late in life and in particular tend to affect both men and women over the age of 65.

What can you do to protect your parents?

Stay involved. Call, write, Facetime, Zoom and be engaged with your parents and their day-to-day lives. Parents who become lonely are especially become targets of financial elder abuse. By constantly staying in contact with your parents, you can detect signs of possible financial elder abuse. We have heard many parents tell us that they took Johnny out of the trust because he never comes around and never calls.

What should you do if you discover that your parent has been subject of elder abuse?

The first thing you do is to contact the police and make a report. Next, you contact the elder abuse hotline. Contact the banks, and financial institution and put them on alert. Be sure to get names and telephone numbers of people you talk to when you alert them. Then contact an elder law attorney for additional things to do to implement protective documents or court procedures. If the perpetrator of fraud or abuse continues to come around, you may consider an elder abuse restraining order which is very easily available. Remember that restraining orders require urgency and the harm must be show to be imminent. Lawyers who practice elder abuse protection know the ins and outs of elder abuse restraining orders.

Where do you go to in Los Angeles to file an elder abuse restraining order?

Los Angeles Superior Court

111 N. Hill Street

Los Angeles, CA 90012

There are no court filing fees for elder abuse restraining orders.

When to file an elder abuse restraining order: As soon as you know the abuse has occurred if there is a thread of abuse. Talk to our lawyers who practice elder abuse, and who can legally protect elders from abuse.

Who to call to report elder abuse in Los Angeles County?

Here is a list of people to contact in the event you suspect elder abuse.

  1. The Police: 911.
  2. Elder Abuse Hotline: 1-877-4R SENIORS (1-877-477-3646)
  3. Your parent’s homeowner’s insurance.
  4. An Elder Law attorney to discuss a conservatorship.
  5. Financial Institutions where your parents have accounts.
  6. A private professional fiduciary.

There are remedies for elder abuse including attorneys fees. Don’t be afraid to call a lawyer about elder abuse protection.

We can help your aging parents. Call our attorney: Mina Sirkin, Elder abuse attorney in Los Angeles at 818.340.4479 to learn how an attorney can help protect your parents from elder abuse.