Recap of Keystone’s 2020 Successes
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Keystone was fortunate to achieve a number of significant victories for its clients in 2020. Below is a brief recap of several of these successes.
Temporary Conservatorship Potentially Saves Mother’s Life During COVID-19
Keystone represented a client who was concerned about the health and safety of her elderly mother, who had advanced Alzheimer’s disease and was confined inside a family member’s home that had become a hotbed of suspected COVID-19 cases. The client was seeking to immediately move her mother out of this unsafe residence and into her own home, where she could receive the proper care and attention.
Keystone’s petition for a temporary conservatorship was almost immediately granted by the court, allowing Keystone’s client to relocate her mother to her own home right away – a move that potentially saved her mother’s life.
Eventually, the parties agreed to a settlement whereby Keystone’s client was appointed the permanent conservator of her mother’s person and estate, and the mother was permitted to remain in the home of Keystone’s client permanently.
Keystone Helps Financially Abused Elder Regain Control of Her Assets From an Irrevocable Trust
Keystone represented a client who had lost control of the primary asset of her trust – an income-producing property – after her son unduly influenced her into executing a Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT) and signing a deed that transferred the property from her existing trust into the QPRT. Worse still, the client’s son, who was acting as the sole trustee of the QPRT, was pilfering money from the QPRT for his own personal benefit. The client was seeking not only to suspend her son as the trustee of the QPRT but to altogether revoke or invalidate it.
Keystone’s attorneys argued that its client had lacked capacity when she signed the QPRT and had been subjected to undue influence and financial abuse by her son. At the initial hearing, the judge – based on the compelling arguments presented by Keystone’s lawyers – determined that the son’s behavior raised enough concern about financial abuse to immediately suspend him as the trustee of the QPRT and appoint a private professional fiduciary as an interim trustee. Ultimately, Keystone’s lawyers compelled the son to agree to a settlement that called for him to invalidate the QPRT and return control of its assets to his mother.
Don’t Leave Your Inheritance Unattended – You May Lose It
Keystone represented the contingent beneficiary of a trust who was seeking to protect his interest in the trust. Upon the death of the first settlor of the trust, three sub-trusts were to be created and funded. Built into the terms of the trust were certain safeguards to ensure that the surviving settlor could not deplete the assets held by the trust following the first settlor’s death. The terms, therefore, allowed for the surviving settlor to exercise broad discretion over all but one sub-trust, which contained real property that was to be preserved for the settlors’ children and grandchildren.
The surviving settlor’s son, over a period of several years while the surviving settlor was vulnerable to undue influence, caused the surviving settlor to execute new estate planning documents and take out several substantial loans against the trust properties. All of these efforts were intended to increase the ultimate share going to the son and his family at the expense of Keystone’s client. Ultimately, Keystone put an end to the undue influence, helped install a private professional fiduciary as trustee, invalidated all estate plan documents executed after the first settlor’s death, laid the groundwork to recover damages and attorney fees, and secured for its client his rightful inheritance.
Client Wanted Her Rightful Share of the Family Business; Keystone Gets Her the Entire Company
Keystone represented a successor co-trustee and beneficiary of her parents’ trust who was concerned that her 96-year-old father, the other co-trustee, was threatening her future inheritance. Because the client’s father was the trust’s only living settlor, he had substantial control over the assets of the trust, which included a Limited Liability Company.
The LLC owned a commercial property that was the trust’s most valuable asset. It was earning substantial income and its value was projected to appreciate, yet the father of the client was seeking to sell the commercial property for below market value and without regard for the substantial tax liabilities that would arise as a result of the sale. In other words, he was seeking to make an ill-advised business decision that would jeopardize the inheritances of the client and the other beneficiaries under the trust, as well as significantly reduce his own trust fund distributions.
Ultimately, after years of trust litigation and breaches of multiple settlement agreements, Keystone resolved the case through an agreement for its client to become sole owner of the LLC after buying out her father’s and sister’s shares. The net result was that Keystone’s client received a lucrative income-producing asset whose value far exceeded the value of her potential future inheritance.
Gifts Made to a Caregiver Through a Will She Suspiciously Handwrote Are Successfully Challenged
Keystone’s client was the half-brother of a decedent and one of his only remaining heirs. He came to Keystone years after his brother’s death because of suspicious behavior on the part of the decedent’s former caregiver and financial adviser. At the time Keystone was retained, Keystone’s client practically had no information about his brother’s estate; however, through litigation and discovery, Keystone learned that not only had the caregiver used a power of attorney to transfer one of the decedent’s most valuable assets – a real property – into a trust under which she was the trustee and sole beneficiary, but she had also drafted a will (to which she was the sole beneficiary) for the decedent in her own handwriting, purporting that the decedent had been unable to write and had dictated the terms of the will to her.
Keystone’s client was seeking to invalidate both the will and trust on account of lack of capacity, undue influence and (in the case of the will) lack of due execution. The client also alleged a claim of elder financial abuse and was seeking to have the caregiver disqualified from receiving anything from the estate or trust on account of this abuse.
Ultimately, Keystone reached a favorable settlement for its client in which the client received the majority of the decedent’s liquid assets plus an additional settlement sum that the caregiver had to pay Keystone’s client.
Keystone Helps Its Client Honor the Decedent’s Final Wishes
Keystone’s client was the son of the decedent and the sole beneficiary of the decedent’s trust, which contained virtually all of the decedent’s assets, including the decedent’s most valuable asset, the family home. Upon learning that his sister, another child of the decedent, had filed a petition to open probate and be appointed as the executor of the decedent’s estate, the client came to Keystone seeking to have the decedent’s will invalidated and for himself to be appointed as the executor of the estate. Ultimately, the court determined that the majority of the decedent’s assets were in his trust; therefore, both parties’ petitions for probate were dismissed.
Once the estate matter was no longer relevant, disputes arose surrounding the trust. The client’s sister had filed several petitions with the court, including petitions to invalidate the trust and the grant deed which had transferred the decedent’s home, into the trust. Keystone was able to help its client avoid a long and costly court battle by reaching a highly favorable resolution through mediation. The decedent’s home was sold, and from the proceeds, Keystone’s client was able to take attorney fees and costs, trust administration expenses and the majority of the remaining funds.
An Obligation to Sell Real Property Survives Death
Keystone represented a law firm that had been retained by a business to complete the transfer of real property held by a trust of husband-and-wife settlors (the decedents). The settlors had agreed to sell the subject property to the business in question via a prior settlement agreement and purchase agreement. However, before the sale could be completed, the husband-and-wife settlors both died, and their daughter, as successor trustee of their trust, executed a deed transferring the property to her brother; the business – the client of Keystone’s client – claimed this transfer was in breach of the settlement and purchase agreements that had been executed by the decedents prior to their deaths. Keystone was hired to help the law firm / business with the probate issues, to enforce the settlement and purchase agreements and to effectuate the proper transfer of this asset.
Keystone filed a petition to open probate and have a special administrator appointed, so when an agreement was reached between the parties, the special administrator could bind the estate. Keystone then helped the business file a creditor’s claim, but the child of the decedents to whom the property at issue had been transferred denied any liability. Later, because the child was refusing to vacate the property, Keystone helped the business file a civil complaint seeking enforcement of the aforementioned settlement and purchase agreements. Ultimately, Keystone reached a favorable settlement agreement for its client in which the business acquired the property, with any outstanding liabilities having to be paid by the decedents’ son, who had been occupying the property when the deal had been made.
Keystone Works Fast to Help Protect a Comatose Patient with a Temporary Conservatorship
Keystone’s client was the sister of a patient who was in a medically induced coma after suffering a major heart attack. The patient was heavily sedated and unconscious but also intubated, which rendered him unable to communicate. He did not have a spouse and his two children were young and lacked the experience to manage their father’s finances and medical care. Out of concern that her brother would have no one to consent to life-saving medical procedures on his behalf, collect income on his rental properties or make his health and life insurance payments to avoid gaps in coverage, among other things, Keystone sought to establish a temporary conservatorship for the client over her brother as quickly as possible.
Within two days of filing the petition, Keystone secured for the client a temporary conservatorship over her brother; however, Keystone’s services did not end there. Keystone’s conservatorship attorneys provided counseling to the client on how to best fulfill her duties as the temporary conservator of her brother’s person and estate until her brother awoke from his coma.
With Keystone’s help, the client was able to help safeguard her brother’s health and finances while he remained incapacitated. He was able to get the medical procedures he needed in a timely fashion and did not suffer any lasting financial harm. Thankfully, since he ultimately regained competence, it never became necessary for the client to establish a permanent probate conservatorship, and the temporary conservatorship was terminated.
Decedent’s Last-Minute Alterations to His Trust Raise Suspicion
Keystone represented the daughter of a decedent in a trust contest. The trust amendment at issue sought to leave 100% of the decedent’s residence — the primary asset of his trust — to his girlfriend rather than to his children, who had previously been named as the primary beneficiaries of his longstanding estate plan. Although the decedent and his girlfriend had been in a relationship for nearly 20 years prior to the execution of the disputed amendment, the decedent’s estate plan had always only left the girlfriend a small cash gift.
Keystone’s attorneys were immediately suspicious of the amendment, not only because of the significantly increased gift to the girlfriend, but also because of the timing of the amendment, which was signed late in the decedent’s life. The decedent suffered from numerous health issues during his final years and was eventually diagnosed with dementia. Keystone argued that the decline in the decedent’s physical health and mental capacity made him particularly susceptible to financial elder abuse and undue influence at the hands of his girlfriend, and that his girlfriend had taken advantage of his frailty and dependence in order to isolate the decedent from his children for her own benefit.
By gaining access to the decedent’s medical records, Keystone was able to argue that the decedent lacked the necessary mental capacity to execute the disputed amendment. Additionally, by engaging in a targeted and strategic discovery process, Keystone identified critical inconsistencies in the girlfriend’s story in order to demonstrate her lack of credibility. Ultimately, Keystone negotiated a favorable settlement for its client, securing her half of the trust proceeds and equal authority over the sale of the home. Keystone was proud to be able to help its client ensure that the decedent’s lifelong estate plans were honored.
What Happens to a Beneficiary’s Specific Gift from a Trust if the Decedent Sold the Gift Before Dying?
Keystone’s clients were the residual beneficiaries of a trust and family members of the decedent (the trust’s settlor). Before they hired Keystone, the trustee of the trust had filed a Petition for Instructions with the court to confirm that the proceeds from the sale of a real property previously held by the trust and sold during the decedent’s lifetime should be distributed to Keystone’s clients (as residual beneficiaries of the trust) as opposed to the specific trust beneficiaries who would have inherited the property had it not been sold by the decedent prior to his death. The trustee was arguing that this specific gift of the real property to these other trust beneficiaries should be adeemed because the decedent had sold the property to allegedly cover his own living expenses and eventually to purchase a condominium. Unfortunately, before the decedent was able to use the proceeds from the sale to purchase the condominium, he died from accidental causes.
One of these specific beneficiaries of the real property at issue had filed an objection to the trustee’s Petition for Instructions, arguing that not only was the trustee breaching his duty of impartiality by suggesting the proceeds from the sale of the property should be distributed to Keystone’s clients, but also that ademption was not standard legal practice in this type of scenario.
Keystone’s attorneys demonstrated that the decedent had been suffering from severe mental health issues when he executed the trust amendment that left the real property specifically to the respondent and respondent’s brother. The strength of Keystone’s arguments ultimately led the respondent to enter into a settlement agreement with Keystone’s clients and the trustee that was very favorable to Keystone’s clients, whereby Keystone’s clients received nearly two-thirds of the proceeds from the sale of the property.
Misconduct Lands Trustee in Hot Water with Her Siblings
Keystone represented four sibling beneficiaries of a trust in an action against another beneficiary (their sibling), who had been named as the successor trustee by the trust’s settlor (their mother), who had recently died. Keystone’s clients had not been provided a copy of the trust instrument by the new trustee, any trust accountings or distributions from the trust, even though the trust held primarily liquid assets. For six months, Keystone’s clients had been requesting accountings, including an inventory of trust assets, from the trustee, but to no avail. Additionally, Keystone’s clients suspected that the trustee was misappropriating trust assets for personal use and failing to preserve trust property, namely real property held by the trust on which the trustee had not paid any expenses, including property taxes, HOA fees, mortgage payments and insurance. Keystone’s clients were not only seeking to compel an accounting but also to remove and surcharge the trustee.
Because of the strength of Keystone’s litigation strategy and arguments, which demonstrated that the trustee had, in fact, caused unnecessary and avoidable damage to the trust, the trustee settled on terms that were extremely favorable to Keystone’s clients. She not only agreed to execute all the necessary documents to preserve the real property at issue and transfer it to three of her siblings, but she also agreed to promptly distribute the trust’s remaining liquid assets equally among the beneficiaries. Additionally, to account for the assets the trustee had misappropriated from the trust for personal use, the trustee agreed to receive a reduced trust distribution.
Be Careful to Whom You Sign Over Your Home
Keystone represented the attorney-in-fact and daughter of an elderly settlor of a trust. The primary asset held by the trust was the settlor’s residence. The settlor needed a medical procedure, but she did not qualify for government benefits because of the value of her assets, which included her residence. She discussed this problem with her son (the decedent) who suggested that she temporarily transfer the real property at issue to him in order to see if she would then qualify for government benefits. She agreed, believing that once it was determined whether or not she would qualify for the benefits, he would return the property to her.
Around the same time, the son had been in the process of divorcing his wife and had moved in with his mother. The mother, however, was the one paying the majority of expenses on the residence with occasional help from Keystone’s client. After the son moved out of the mother’s residence, he decided to transfer the real property into his own trust, which named his ex-wife as the successor trustee and his two children as beneficiaries. He unapologetically informed his mother that he would be keeping the real property for the benefit of his two children, which was a blatant breach of the oral contract he had entered into with his mother. Unfortunately, the son died without transferring the real property back into his mother’s trust.
Ultimately, Keystone’s arguments regarding the financial elder abuse inflicted on the settlor by the decedent caused the decedent’s ex-wife (the trustee of his trust) to enter into a settlement agreement that favored Keystone’s client and her mother. It was ordered for the property at issue to be transferred to Keystone’s client, with Keystone’s client having to pay a minimal settlement sum to the decedent’s ex-wife.
New Wife Goes Too Far to Try and Receive the Decedent’s Entire Trust Estate
Keystone represented the son of a decedent and the trustee of his trust in an action to invalidate an amended trust, which he alleged was a product of undue influence and financial elder abuse at the hands of the decedent’s second wife.
Suspecting the decedent’s imminent death, the new wife forced the decedent to fire his longtime estate planning attorney, after which she took him to a new estate planning attorney of her choosing. There, she had him amend his trust to provide her with half of the trust assets outright upon decedent’s death, and the other half in trust. The new wife had not been a beneficiary of the decedent’s original trust.
The decedent died very shortly after making this amendment and under highly questionable circumstances. Keystone’s clients learned that, although the decedent had been in critical condition in the days following his execution of this new trust, the new wife had purposefully delayed taking him to the hospital for several days, and she may have even been withholding medication, food and water from him during this time. As a result, Keystone’s clients also brought a claim under the “slayer statute” to disinherit the new wife on account of her possibly having directly contributed to the decedent’s death.
Ultimately, Keystone was able to help its client reach a settlement agreement in which the original trust was honored, the amended trust was invalidated, and Keystone’s clients received the vast majority of the decedent’s assets.
Right to Occupy Real Property Lost When Beneficiary Moved Out
Keystone represented the son of a decedent, who also was the executor of the decedent’s estate. The decedent had been residing with his registered domestic partner in the main unit of a multi-family real property that he owned. In his will, the decedent had provided for his partner to have the use and enjoyment of the property for her lifetime; however, upon the decedent’s death, the partner had almost immediately relocated to another state to be closer to her family.
Keystone’s client was arguing that by leaving the state, the decedent’s partner had, in effect, abandoned her use of the property. Keystone sought confirmation from the court that the decedent’s domestic partner only had a right to occupancy during her lifetime based on the language of the will, and that she abandoned that right upon relocating to another state, which, in turn, would give Keystone’s client permission to immediately sell the property and divide the proceeds from the sale among estate beneficiaries.
The partner of the decedent objected to the claims made by Keystone’s client. She was alleging that despite her leaving the state, she had a life estate and was still permitted to use and enjoy the property for her lifetime, even if she chose not to reside there. Ultimately, Keystone reached a favorable settlement agreement for its client that provided the partner with only a minimal settlement sum. The estate closed shortly thereafter with the title having been transferred to the decedent’s beneficiaries. The property was subsequently sold for $1.9M.
Keystone thanks all of its clients for a successful 2020!