Trusts and Estates

Buskirk v. Buskirk

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Cite as B295648
Filed August 14, 2020, Second District, Div. Eight

By Matt Owens
Withers Bergman LLP

Headnote: Trusts – Personal Jurisdiction – elements of specific, or case-linked, jurisdiction

Summary: California courts have case-linked personal jurisdiction over out-of-state trustees and beneficiaries who have purposefully availed themselves of forum benefits, where the controversy relates to the respondents’ contacts with the forum, and where the exercise of jurisdiction comports with fair play and substantial justice.

Ellen and her husband created a trust in 2005 while they were both California residents.  They named themselves co-trustees and chose to have the trust governed by California law.  Following her husband’s death in 2005, Ellen administered the trust as sole trustee until 2016 when she moved to Idaho where her daughters lived.  Ellen was the lifetime beneficiary and her son, two daughters, and granddaughter were the remainder beneficiaries.  Ellen’s son, Walter, contended his mother was taken to Idaho against her will by Ellen’s two daughters and brother and that she was being isolated and subjected to undue influence.  After learning of the sale of some of the trust’s California real estate on terms to which he objected, Walter filed a petition seeking a trust accounting and appointment of a professional fiduciary as successor trustee.  Ellen and her daughters moved to quash the petition based on lack of personal jurisdiction.  The probate court granted the motion, ruling that Walter failed to establish the respondents’ minimum contacts with California.  Walter appealed.

The court of appeal reversed.  California had personal jurisdiction over the respondents because the facts alleged in the verified petition satisfied the long-standing, three-prong test for case-linked jurisdiction.  First, the respondents purposefully availed themselves of California benefits by, among other things, participating in the management of the trust, which was created and administered in California, was governed by California law, and owned California real property.  Second, Walter’s claims related to the respondents’ contacts with California because they were connected to California through the trust, which was the topic of Walter’s lawsuit.  Third, exercising jurisdiction was fair because the respondents all participated in moving Ellen from California under what Walter alleged to be improper circumstances, so they should defend their actions here.  Even though none of the respondents were California residents, they still had minimum contacts with the state.

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