Susan D. LINTZ, et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents,
Lois Lynne LINTZ, Defendant and Appellant.
Monterey County Superior Court Superior Court No. MP19531, Thomas W. Wills, Trial Judge.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[167 Cal.Rptr.3d 53] Albert J. Nicora, Carmel, Nicora and Hespe, LLP, James Matthew Wagstaffe, Kerr & Wagstaffe, San Francisco, for Plaintiff/Respondent
James L. Dawson, Nicholas Garrett Emanuel, San Jose, Gates Eisenhart Dawson, for Defendant/Appellant
Defendant Lois Lynne Lintz appeals from a judgment of financial elder abuse, undue influence, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion of separate property, and constructive trust. Defendant challenges only the remedial aspect of the judgment. She argues that the probate court erred by voiding her deceased husband's testamentary trusts and trust amendments executed after May 2005 without proof of undue influence in connection with the execution of those documents. She argues further that the probate court's invalidation of the trust documents unconstitutionally interferes with her marital relationship.
Although the probate court applied the incorrect standard for legal capacity and failed to apply a presumption of undue influence to the interspousal transactions at issue here, we will affirm the judgment because it is amply supported by the evidence, especially in light of the higher burdens incorrectly placed on plaintiffs below, and we find no error in the remedy.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Defendant was the third wife of decedent Robert Lintz. The couple married in 1999, divorced approximately six months later, and remarried in February 2005. Their second marriage ended when decedent died in October 2009 at age 81. Defendant has two children from a previous marriage. Decedent had three children from two previous marriages, and two grandchildren. When decedent remarried defendant in 2005, he was a retired real estate developer worth millions of dollars. Decedent had a complicated estate plan, with holdings in both northern and southern California. Decedent's northern California estate plan was contained in the Robert Lintz Trust (the trust) and a series of amendments to the trust, prepared over the years by decedent's estate lawyers. The ninth amendment to the trust, in effect when decedent and defendant remarried, provided for decedent's children, grandchildren, and former son-in-law upon decedent's death.
In May 2005 decedent executed a tenth amendment to the trust. The tenth amendment provided defendant with fifty percent of decedent's assets upon his death, with the remaining fifty percent to be distributed among decedent's children and grandchildren. Between May 2005 and 2008 decedent executed several additional trust amendments, increasingly providing defendant with more of decedent's assets upon his death and disinheriting his two eldest children. Ultimately, in June 2008 defendant and decedent, as joint settlors and trustees, executed the Lintz Family Revocable Trust. The trust, prepared by defendant's attorney at defendant's direction, purportedly designated all of decedent's property as community property, gave defendant an exclusive life interest in decedent's estate, and gave defendant the right to disinherit decedent's youngest child and leave any unspent residue to defendant's two children.
[167 Cal.Rptr.3d 54] Upon decedent's death, decedent's older children, plaintiffs Susan Lintz and James Lintz, as decedent's successors in interest, filed a second amended complaint against defendant alleging several causes of action including fiduciary abuse of an elder, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, constructive trust, and undue influence. Following a 15-day bench trial, the probate court issued a 25-page statement of decision finding defendant liable for financial elder abuse under Welfare and Institutions Code section 15610.30, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion of separate property funds, and finding defendant in constructive trust of decedent's converted funds and trust property. The court ruled that decedent had testamentary capacity to execute the trust
instruments, but it found defendant liable for undue influence in the procurement of ...