When a California woman died last year at age 91, her caretaker was left in control of her assets. The caretaker, now 63, met the woman in 2002 when she was recovering from surgery in an Orange County care center. When she left the facility and went home in 2003, the caretaker continued to visit and provide care for her.
By September of 2003, the caretaker had been named as a co-trustee and beneficiary of the assets in her trust. These assets included her home in Brea and about $170,000 in securities. Last month a Superior Court judge removed the man as trustee, stating that over the course of a decade he had used undue influence to gain control of her assets.
California's probate code contains a provision that whenever a care custodian of a dependent adult is named as a beneficiary in a will or trust, there is a presumption of undue influence if the will or trust was drafted during the caregiving relationship, or within 90 days before or after the relationship. The caregiver can rebut the presumption by presenting clear and convincing evidence to the probate court, but if the caregiver cannot do so, they can be held responsible for all court costs incurred in the proceeding.
Vulnerable adults are sometimes the victims of undue influence in connection with estate planning. Family members who are concerned about possible undue influence by a caretaker or other person can protect their loved one by consulting an experienced estate planning attorney and requesting an independent review of the will or trust at issue.
Source: Orange County Register, "A widow's case of trust in caretaker for estate becoming more common for Orange County seniors," Kelly Puente, July 23, 2015