In 2012, a man named Sam Walls visited his attorney, on the good advice of his tax advisor, to establish a living trust. We will refer to that as the 2012 Trust.
Sam created the trust to make sure his home in Santa Rosa (valued at approximately $800,000) would be distributed to his biological son (“Peter”) and two stepsons (“Tom” and “Steve”) after he passed away.
In early 2018, Sam’s health began to decline. Sadly, Sam was at the beginning stages of dementia. His stepsons began to assist him with his daily health and financial needs. Getting his groceries, paying his monthly bills, and assisting with all the many things a caretaker might handle. Even though he lived nearby, his biological son, Peter, wasn’t helping with his father’s care. In September 2019, Sam’s situation had begun to decline precipitously. He was diagnosed with “Sundowners Syndrome” and the stepsons felt they needed the help of a professional in-home care specialist.
Peter didn’t like the sounds of ‘his’ inheritance “going down the drain to some caretaker” and suddenly reappeared in Sam’s life to “take care” of his father. Peter quickly took control of his dad’s finances and isolated his dad from his stepbrothers, Tom and Steve.
In October 2019, a new trust was drawn up, the 2019 Trust, which left the home in question to Peter, disinheriting his stepbrothers. Peter had changed the stated wishes of his dad while he was in the throes of dementia.
Sam passed away a few months later, in late December 2019. After his dad’s death, Peter filed a petition in Sonoma County Superior Court, seeking to have the court validate his October 2019 trust and invalidate the 2012 Trust.
Tom and Steve were concerned that what was taking place was not only unfair to them but entirely against their stepdad’s stated wishes. They hired attorneys to see what could be done. This was the beginning of costly litigation. Suddenly, Sam’s estate had new beneficiaries he never would have wanted, lawyers.
During trial, the court found that Peter had committed perjury and rejected his claim that the 2019 Trust was the legitimate trust of his father’s estate.
The judge in the case found in favor of Tom and Steve. The legal costs of this case $475,000! The home was only worth $800,000. 56% of the inheritance Sam had wanted to go to his son and two stepsons went to two law firms instead.