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Araiza v. Younkin

September 29, 2010

RONALD A. ARAIZA, AS TRUSTEE, ETC., PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
LORI YOUNKIN, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



(Ventura County Super. Ct. No. 56-2009-00343521). Kent M. Kellegrew, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yegan, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Lori Younkin appeals from the trial court's order confirming ownership of a Bank of American savings account to respondent Ronald Araiza, as successor trustee of the Lucia Howery Living Trust, and naming Gabriella Reeves the beneficiary of that account. Appellant, the step-daughter of Lucia Howery, contends she is the owner of the savings account and that the transfer to Reeves is presumptively invalid pursuant to Probate Code section 21350*fn1 because respondent drafted the living trust and Reeves is his mother. Respondent contends Howery changed the beneficiary of the savings account in her living trust and that appellant forfeited the section 21350 issue because she did not raise it in a timely fashion or obtain a ruling on it from the trial court. We affirm.

Facts

In 2001, Lucia Howery opened a checking account and a savings account at the Bank of America. Although she named appellant as the beneficiary of the savings account, Howery was the only person authorized to withdraw funds from it.

In August 2005, Howery established the Lucia Howery Living Trust. The Declaration of Trust states that Howery, as trustor, "declares the establishment of a revocable living trust by delivering to the Trust without consideration all property described in the attached Schedule of Trust Property...." The Schedule lists "Savings accounts[,]" as among the categories of personal property delivered to the trust. Howery's Declaration of Trust further provides that, during her life, the trust will "hold, administer, and distribute all property" allocated to it for Howery's own benefit. At her death, the successor trustee "shall make the following distributions: [¶] I give my 2004 Infinity automobile to LORI YOUNKIN. [¶].... [¶] I give the following savings and checking accounts to GABRIELLA REEVES, Bank of America [checking account], contents of my safe deposit box at Bank of America, and Bank of America [savings account]."

At some point, Howery authorized Gabriella Reeves to sign checks written on the Bank of America checking account. She received a single monthly statement for both accounts; the statements were addressed to both Howery and Reeves. Bank of America was unable to locate a signature card for the checking account. It had only one signature card for the savings account; it lists Howery as the account holder and Younkin as the beneficiary.

Howrey died on April 29, 2009. At that point, respondent Araiza became the successor trustee. Respondent is the attorney who drafted Howrey's living trust. He is also the son of Gabriella Reeves.

After Howrey's death, respondent petitioned the trial court for an order allowing him to convey the Bank of America accounts to Reeves. Appellant filed a written objection on the sole ground that she is the owner of the savings account. The trial court found that Howery's living trust changed the beneficiary from appellant to Reeves. It made no finding on the question of whether Reeves is disqualified under section 21350 from receiving the savings account.

Contentions

Appellant contends she is the sole owner of the savings account because Howery named her as the beneficiary and never changed that designation in a manner authorized by section 5303. She further contends that section 21350, subdivision (a)(2) invalidates any transfer to Reeves because respondent is the attorney who drafted the living trust and Reeves is his mother. Respondent contends the living trust documents were sufficient to change the beneficiary and that appellant forfeited the section 21350 issue by failing to raise it in a timely manner and by failing to secure a ruling on it in the trial court.

Standard of Review

The trial court's construction of the Probate Code is subject to our de novo review. (California Teachers Assn. v. Governing Bd. of the Golden Valley Unified School Dist. (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 369, 375-376.) "Like the trial court, our primary duty in interpreting a statute is to determine and effectuate the Legislature's intent." (Cahoon v. Governing Bd. of Ventura Unified School Dist. (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 381, 384.) Our first step is to scrutinize the words of the statute, giving them a plain and common sense meaning. (Patton v. Sherwood (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 339, 345.) "We construe the words of a statute in context, and harmonize the various parts of an ...


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