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Correcting the Record and Litigating Probate Appeals Case

The San Diego appellate lawyers at Van Dyke & Associates, APLC are dedicated to providing clients throughout California the highest caliber representation in all phases of litigation, including appeals. The firm’s attorneys draw upon 20 years of experience appealing adverse trial court rulings and also successfully defending lower court victories on appeal. We do so by keeping abreast of litigation trends and ever-changing case law.

Confident in Probate Appellate Law

Our attorneys monitor each case the firm tries for potential points of appeal, ensuring any errors against us are preserved for post-trial relief and that we are prepared to defend rulings in your favor. Our appellate attorneys have the legal knowledge needed to handle briefing and oral arguments before state appellate courts throughout California. 

Common Appellate Issues:

  • Sufficiency of the evidence 

  • Improper legal interpretation 

  • Improperly admitted testimony 

  • Expert admission 

  • Procedural errors 

  • Faulty jury instructions 
     

At Van Dyke & Associates, APLC, our appellate law experience includes filing and answering: 

  • Motions for post-trial relief 

  • Motions to vacate 

  • Motions for reconsideration 

  • Motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict 

  • Appeal briefs 

  • Writs 

  • Amicus curiae briefs 

Recent Cases:

Sefton v. Sefton (Sefton II), Court of Appeal of California, Fourth District, Division One, April 25, 2015 (236 Cal. App. 4th 159).   —

After his father invalidly excluded him, son was entitled under common law to one-third of trust estate as taker in default of appointment where appointive property passed according to his grandfather’s testamentary scheme, which provided property should pass to father’s then living issue, on principle of representation, in default of appointment. 

Steiger v. Steiger (Steiger II), Court of Appeal of California, Fourth District, Division One, August 05, 2016 (2016 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5806).

Lee Steiger petitioned the probate court to compel trustee Paul Steiger to account for the Louise A. Steiger Trust, for the period from January 10, 2000, to April 18, 2011. The court applied California law to administer the trust, and determined that Paul had no duty to account to Lee from January 10, 2000, through February 3, 2006 (the time period while Louise Steiger, settlor, was acting as cotrustee) or from February 3, 2006, to October 29, 2010 (the time period while Lee was acting as cotrustee with Paul).1 The court ordered Paul to file an amended account for the time period from October 29, 2010, through December 31, 2014. Lee, appearing in propria persona, has appealed the order, contending that New Jersey law should apply to govern the accounting and the court erred in holding that Paul had no duty to account for the majority of the pre-mortem period. We agree with the court’s application of California law and affirm the court’s order limiting the scope of accounting. 

Sefton v. Sefton (Sefton I), Court of Appeal of California, Fourth District, Division One, May 31, 2012 (206 Cal. App. 4th 875).  —

Because the applicable case law at the time a grandfather executed a will made a power of appointment nonexclusive, a grandson could not be excluded under the later-enacted Prob. Code, § 652, when his father exercised the power of appointment. Prob. Code, § 601, required application of the law in effect when the grandfather executed his will.

Steiger v. Steiger (Steiger I), Court of Appeal of California, Fourth District, Division One, July 22, 2015 (2015 Cal. App. Unpub LEXIS 5119).  —

The trial court found that a document appearing to amend the Louise A. Steiger Trust Dated May 11, 1990 (Trust) had not been properly delivered pursuant to the Trust’s requirements and thus, was not a valid amendment. If valid, it would have made Lee Steiger (Lee) the Trust’s sole beneficiary as opposed to beneficiaries in equal shares with his brother, Paul Steiger (Paul). Lee, appearing in propria persona, appeals contending there were procedural irregularities leading to the trial court’s decision and the amendment was effectively delivered. We reject Lee’s contentions and affirm.

Glossary of Essential Terms

Probate Litigation —

Probate litigation involves disputes over the dispensation of wealth in a decedent’s estate, including but not limited to:   

  • Challenges to the validity or existence of a will Demands for accountings

  • Allegations of breach of fiduciary duty   

  • Recovery of attorneys’ fees

 

In short, when an interested party objects to actions taken during the probate process or in the creation of a purportedly valid will, there is potential for litigation. These cases can be very complex and might touch on various legal disciplines, including estate planning, family law, real estate, bankruptcy, tax law and securities law. Litigation is conducted under the state Probate Code, which has specific rules of procedure. For this reason, you should only trust your case to an attorney with ample experience in this discrete area of the law.

Probate Litigation FAQs

How do I prevent trust and estate litigation? 

Trust and estate litigation can be expensive and can deplete the resources of the trust or estate. Of course, allowing poor management to continue is not a viable alternative. Our firm often tries to prevent litigation through a review and consultation of the policies, practices and proposed actions of the fiduciaries. By comparing this record against national and state standards for acceptable fiduciary conduct, such as the Uniform Prudent Investor Act, Uniform Principal and Income Act, we can often reach a settlement that delivers a fair outcome without protracted legal proceedings.