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Undue Influence in Marriage Can Affect Estate Planning

A recent California appeals court ruling in a trust litigation case illustrates the importance of married couples in California following the law when it comes to undue influence where estate planning is concerned. Under California family law, married spouses have a fiduciary duty to each other and cannot exert undue influence to further their own gain.

In Lintz v. Lintz, a wealthy real estate developer named Robert Lintz amended one of his trusts several times to the benefit of his wife, Lois Lintz, and to the detriment of his children from a previous marriage. After Robert died, his children sued Lois to overturn the trust amendments. A probate judge found for the children, and Lois Lintz appealed that decision.

In its Jan. 14, 2014 ruling, the Court of Appeals of California, Sixth District, upheld the probate court's decision, citing evidence that Lois Lintz "misinformed" her husband's estate planning attorneys about his wishes and then changed attorneys without his consent. The evidence in the case also showed that Robert Lintz was afraid of his wife and had been the victim of undue influence.

Of note is the appeals court's further ruling that the probate court should have used a higher standard of proof in determining a person's legal capacity to amend or create a trust. The probate court had used the California standard of proof for making a will; however, the appeals court noted that a trust is a much more complicated document, so a higher standard should be applied.

The Flanigan Law Group handles estate planning, administration and litigation legal services for Irvine and Southern California residents. To learn more on how estate planning can help you preserve and protect your assets, contact us at 949-450-0041.

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