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Irvine Legal Blog

Several claims filed for probate of Charles Manson's estate

A California courtroom is the site of a battle over the estate of the late Charles Manson. Manson, who died in 2017 after spending almost five decades in prison, was notorious for his involvement in the murder of nine people.

Three people are competing for probate of the estate. One man says he is Manson's son and has asked that the other two claims be dismissed. According to his claim, Manson died without a will. A second man claims to be the grandson of Manson and the son of the late Charles Manson, Jr., who killed himself in 1993. Reportedly, a DNA test performed on him and compared with another of Manson's sons was negative. Court papers also show that Manson denied being related to the man.

Unsealing of Harper Lee's will reveals little new information

California fans of the work of the late author Harper Lee may be aware that in keeping with the private life she led, her will was also made private. However, on Feb. 27, following a lawsuit from The New York Times, the will was unsealed.

Lee had directed her literary properties and most of her assets to a trust called The Mockingbird Trust. She formed this in 2011, and trusts are private. Lee's longtime lawyer was named as the executor of the estate. Court documents indicated that Lee also left an undisclosed amount to her nephews and niece, her closest relatives. The will was signed by Lee eight days before her death.

Live in LA, write your will in LA

Johnny Hallyday was the most famous rockstar in France. He was a French citizen and was mourned by the entire nation when he died there last December.

Despite this, Hallyday declared his official residence here in Los Angeles, mostly to avoid the steep French taxes. He also wrote his will here, under California law. When he disinherited his oldest children, the French legal system cried sacre bleu! That’s not how it is done in France. But the will is valid and the legal process highlights how probate often works across borders.

Family in battle with Yahoo over email account

A 42-year-old man died intestate in 2006 after a motorcycle crash. He had a Yahoo email account that he had created and shared with his brother. When his surviving siblings sued for full access to the account, Yahoo was initially granted a summary judgment. Now, the Supreme Court may make a ruling in the case, and its decision could have an impact on California residents.

Before the case reached the Supreme Court, it was appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. A judge ruled that the Stored Communications Act would not prevent the contents of the account to be released to family members. Yahoo believes that this could get rid of privacy rights that a person may have been entitled to after death. However, the court did not force Yahoo to provide the content. Instead, it simply reversed the decision of a probate judge.

Manson's body and estate subject of four-way inheritance dispute

A deceased California cult leader remains in ongoing litigation as at least four parties vie for the right to claim his body. Charles Manson died on Nov. 19, 2017, at age 83 after spending 46 years in prison for his role in the murder of seven people in 1969. Since that time, two relatives and two others who claim to have a legitimate will from Manson have been engaged in litigation over the man's estate.

Manson's grandson was the first to file a claim in Los Angeles Probate Court over the estate and Manson's body. He lives in Florida and has traveled to the state for court appearances, saying that he would donate any money received, have the body cremated and spread the ashes. Another claimant is Manson's son, who claims that he is the cult leader's closest surviving relative. He says that he wishes to cremate Manson and scatter the ashes.

Lawsuits related to James Brown's estate continue

A lawsuit filed in a California federal court in January is one of over a dozen dealing with the disputed estate of the singer James Brown, who died in 2006. Brown's will left around $2 million worth of effects to the six children he acknowledged as belonging to him, $2 million to his grandchildren to be used as scholarships, and most of the rest of the estate to the I Feel Good Trust, which was established by Brown to give scholarships to children in Georgia and South Carolina. Unfortunately, none of his beneficiaries have received that money.

Brown was married several times. Some of his children and grandchildren initially challenged the will on the grounds that his drug problems meant he was not of sound mind in making the estate plan. A proposal by the South Carolina attorney general was that the children and grandchildren should get a quarter of the estate and his widow should get another quarter, but the state's highest court threw this out on appeal.

Estate planning may be difficult for blended families

It is not uncommon for stepmothers and stepchildren to become involved in estate disputes. In California and throughout the country, will and trust contests and other matters often involve these parties. Stepmothers tend to be in these types of conflicts partially because of an increased life expectancy. Women who are age 65 today can expect to live to age 86 on average. A man who is 65 today can expect to live to age 84 on average.

It is also worth noting that there are 11.2 million widowed females compared to 2.9 million widowed males. Therefore, these disputes are not necessarily occurring because a stepmother is an evil person. Instead, it represents a demographic imbalance and the tension that can arise when a blended family has to resolve matters related to a deceased person's estate. Furthermore, research shows that stepmothers and their stepchildren don't necessarily have the same worldview to begin with.

Resigning or removing a trustee in California

For a trustee, being legally responsible for managing, investing, and distributing trust assets can be a daunting task, especially since the trustee is also legally liable should any breach of fiduciary duties occur. Consequently, if you are a trustee who wishes to resign or a beneficiary who wishes to remove a certain trustee, you have to act according to the guidelines dictated by California's trust laws.

In the event that you are a trustee who wishes to resign, you can accomplish this by declaring that you no longer want to serve, by being removed with the consent of the interested parties or by having a court order remove you. In any case, it is important to make sure that you act in accordance with the proper procedures; otherwise, you will still be liable for the trust. Alternatively, if you are a beneficiary trying to remove a trustee, you can acquire a court order to remove them by proving that they have breached one of their fiduciary duties, that they have been self-dealing or that they have been stealing from the trust's assets.

An executor must be in your corner, otherwise say goodbye

Your parents built up their estate through hard work, dedication, smarts and a little bit of luck. Upon their deaths, they likely wanted you and your siblings to benefit from their tidy estate that may include heirlooms such as your great-grandmother’s dresser from the old country, plenty of investments such as stocks and retirement accounts, property and cash.

You want to protect your parents’ estate as well as your surviving family’s interests, and that includes ensuring that your executor is performing his or her duties in a competent, desirable and meaningful way.

Estate disputes: The stepmother phenomenon

Stepmothers face numerous hurdles when becoming part of a blended family and blended families are particularly susceptible to tension and family disputes. Estate disputes between stepmothers and stepchildren are a common occurrence.


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