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Estate of Sobol

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fifth Division

April 21, 2014

Estate of SOMA SOBOL, Deceased.
JAY ROSE et al., Objectors and Appellants. TERRY D. SHAYLIN, as Co-executor, etc., et al., Petitioners and Respondents,

APPEAL from orders of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BP138349 Reva G. Goetz, Judge.

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Steven R. Friedman and Michael E. Friedman for Objectors and Appellants.

Reed Smith and Margaret M. Grignon, for Petitioners and Respondents.

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The objectors, Jay Rose and Fred Maidenberg, appeal from two May 2013 probate court orders. The objectors appeal from an order appointing co-executors, Terry D. Shaylin, Dolores Diehl, and Dr. Maria Gracita DaCosta-Iyer. They were appointed to act as executors of the estate of the decedent, Sonia, also known as Sonya, Sobol. In addition, the objectors appeal from an order denying Mr. Rose’s competing petition with prejudice. Mr. Rose’s competing petition sought to have him named as executor. The probate court sustained the co-executors’ demurrers without leave to amend because the objectors lacked standing. The objectors argue the probate court has inherent and statutory authority to give them standing pursuant to Probate Code[1] section 48. The objectors contend: they have standing to challenge the codicil, which replaced Mr. Rose as executor, with the co-executors; the codicil was procured by Ms. Shaylin through elder abuse of Ms. Sobol; and Ms. Sobol was an elderly and enfeebled woman who lacked testamentary capacity when the codicil was executed. We conclude the objectors lack standing to contest the codicil. We affirm the order denying Mr. Rose’s competing petition in which he sought to be named as executor. Thus, we affirm the orders under review.


A. Will And Trust

Ms. Sobol’s pour-over will is dated December 23, 2010. The will provides that all of Ms. Sobol’s property owned at the time of her death will be held by the Sonya Sobol Trust dated December 23, 2010. Ms. Sobol’s property was to be distributed in accordance with the provisions of the Sonya Sobol Trust. The will disinherited Ms. Sobol’s nephew, Mr. Maidenberg, his mother, and his siblings. The will designated Mr. Rose as executor. Avi S. Peretz was designated successor executor.

The Sonya Sobol Trust is a revocable living trust, which became irrevocable upon Ms. Sobol’s death. Ms. Sobol was both the primary trustee and beneficiary. Mr. Rose was designated successor trustee. Ms. Peretz was designated alternative successor trustee. The declaration of trust allowed Ms. Sobol the power to amend the trust during her lifetime.

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The trust was to distribute its assets upon Ms. Sobol’s death. Ms. Sobol gave $250, 000 as a gift to Rema Gralnick. In addition, Ms. Sobol gave her apartment located in Israel to Jacob Sobol. The remainder of the trust assets was to be given to the trustee for the establishment of a charitable foundation in the name of Ms. Sobol’s deceased son, Dr. Efim Sobol. The Efim Sobol Foundation would support medical research and education and the building and development of a hospital in Ashdod, Israel. Mr. Maidenberg, his mother, and his siblings received nothing under the trust.

B. Will and Trust Amendments

On August 30, 2012, Ms. Sobol signed an amendment to the trust declaration. The amendment changed the successor trustee from Mr. Rose to three successor co-trustees—Ms. Diehl, Ms. Shaylin and Dr. DaCosta-Iyer. The amendment made no other changes to the trust declaration.

On September 27, 2012, Ms. Sobol signed a codicil to her will. The codicil revoked the designation of Mr. Rose and Ms. Peretz as executors. The codicil appointed Ms. Diehl, Ms. Shaylin, and Dr. DaCosta-Iyer as co-executors of the will. No other changes were made to the will.

Ms. Sobol died on December 15, 2012, at the age of 89. The estimated value of her estate was $22 million. Ms. Sobol was a widow with no living children. Her only child, Dr. Sobol, died in February 28, 2007 leaving his trust estate to his parents. Ms. Sobol’s husband died on January 6, 2008.

C. Petition For Probate Of Will And Letters Testamentary

On December 21, 2012, the co-executors filed a petition in probate court. They sought to admit Ms. Sobol’s will and codicil to probate and their appointment as co-executors of her estate. The petition was served on the objectors and the Attorney General. Ms. Sobol’s trust is in material part a charitable trust. The Attorney General has the primary responsibility for supervising charitable trusts. (Gov. Code, § 12598, subd. (a); Hagman v. Meher Mount Corporation (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 82, 89 [155 Cal.Rptr.3d 192].) No change to the trust provisions can be effectuated unless the Attorney General is a party to the litigation. (Gov. Code, § 12591; see Estate of Ventura (1963) 217 Cal.App.2d 50, 57 [31 Cal.Rptr. 490].) When a charitable portion of a revocable trust becomes irrevocable, as occurred here, upon Ms. Sobol’s death, the Attorney General must be notified. (§ 16061.7, subds. (a)(1), (b)(3); Ross & Cohen, Cal. Practice Guide: Probate (The Rutter Group 2013) ¶ 2:115.7, p 2-76.4 (rev. #1, 2013).)

The three co-executors submitted declarations in support of the petition. In addition, two declarations were submitted by the two witnesses to the

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execution of the codicil. Ms. Shaylin filed a declaration. Between May 2011 and August 2012, Ms. Shaylin represented Ms. Sobol’s affiliated entity, Summer View Sherman Oaks, LLC in civil litigation and a subsequent Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. In addition, Ms. Shaylin was general bankruptcy counsel for Ms. Sobol commencing April 19, 2012, the date of her Chapter 11 filing. Ms. Shaylin continued in that capacity until Ms. Sobol’s death. On January 10, 2013, the United States ...

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