Relationship via Marriage Exempts Prohibitions against Gifts to Caregivers

Under Probate Code section 21350, there is a rebuttable presumption that testamentary transfers to care custodians/caregivers are the product of fraud, duress, menace or undue influence. However, there are exceptions to that presumption one of which can be found under section 21351, subdivision (a), which states that section 21350 does not apply if the transferor is "related by blood or marriage to, is a cohabitant with or is a registered domestic partner" of the transferee. This was the main argument in Hernandez v. Kieferle (200 Cal. App.4th 419 (2011)).

In 2004, Gertrude Kieferle (decedent) executed a will and established a trust naming her next door neighbors, Florentina and Emigdio Hernandez (plaintiffs and respondents) as the trustees and principal beneficiaries of her trust estate. In February 2008, shortly before Gertrude's death, she executed a new will and amended the 2004 trust substituting Claudine Gieferle (stepdaughter, defendant and appellant) as the trustee and the sole beneficiary of her trust estate.

After Gertrude's death in May 2008, the Hernandezes filed a petition challenging the amendment to the 2004 trust contending that Gertrude lacked mental capacity and that the amendment was the product of fraud, misrepresentation, elder abuse, and undue influence. At the trial, Claudine provided evidence that she was not the primary caregiver. Claudine only gave assistance to Gertrude when necessary. Gertrude's treating physician also testified that from October 2007 to March 2008, Gertrude was mentally competent to make decisions. In addition, a geriatric psychiatrist opined that although Gertrude began to suffer dementia in 2004 and was vulnerable to influence from caregivers during certain periods, she had testamentary capacity in 2008 when she amended her estate plan. Based on their findings, the probate court found that Claudine was a disqualified caregiver under Probate Code section 21350 and that she failed to rebut by clear and convincing evidence the statutory presumption that the transfer to her was the product of undue influence. The court ruled in favor of the Hernandezes and granted the relief sought in their petition. Claudine appealed.

Stay tuned for more on this topic on our subsequent blog.

*This blog entry was not written by an Attorney and should not be construed as professional legal advice.

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