Recall that gifts to caregivers are generally prohibited by law under California Probate Code section 21350. (See blog: Gifts to Caregivers Prohibited noting what activities constitute “caregiving”). However, section 21351, enumerates several exceptions to this general rule. One of the exceptions—found in Section 21351(a)—provides that section 21350 does not apply if the transferor is related by blood or marriage to, is a cohabitant with, or is registered as a domestic partner of the transferee. Cal. Prob. Code § 21351(a) (West). The issue in a recent California case was whether this provision applied to a stepdaughter by marriage.
In Hernandez v. Kieferle (October 31, 2011), the Second Appellate District of California reviewed a probate court decision which invalidated an amendment to a trust designating stepdaughter Claudine Kieferle as the trustee and sole beneficiary of her stepmother Gertrude’s estate. The designated beneficiary of a prior amendment, Gertrude’s next-door neighbor Florentina Hernandez, challenged the validity of the second amendment removing her as the trustee and principal beneficiary of the estate. The probate court found for Florentina noting that section 21350 established a presumption that transfers to care custodians are the product of fraud, duress, menace, or undue influence and, since Claudine lived with Gertrude and cared for her in the evenings, Claudine was disqualified from taking under the trust.
In reviewing the lower court ruling, however, the Appellate Court reversed this decision and concluded that it was an error not to apply the exception found in section 21351(a). The Court rejected the argument that the exception did not apply to Claudine because she was not an “heir”—where her stepmother’s estate did not actually contain property attributable to her father (who passed away eleven years prior)—and found that a person is the transferor’s heir if some intestate rule identifies the person as the transferor’s successor, regardless of whether the transferor’s estate includes the type of property distributed under the rule. Therefore, the section 21351 exception applied and the second amendment was deemed valid allowing Claudine to remain as the trustee and sole beneficiary of Gertrude’s estate.
If you are interested in learning more about making amendments to a trust or creating an estate plan, please contact the San Jose estate planning attorneys at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri, LLP. Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.