Cite as B306918
Filed March 2, 2022, Second District, Div. One
By Golnaz Yazdchi
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP
Headnote: Litigation – Enforcing Settlement Agreements
Summary: Probate Code Section 259 limits what an abuser can receive from a trust, will, or by the laws of intestacy but does not expand the rights of others or create a rule for interpreting provisions of a trust document.
The Chui family was involved in protracted litigation involving a trust with substantial real estate and other assets, which ultimately resolved by way of a settlement agreement set forth orally on the record. Part of the settlement affected the interests of minor beneficiaries and thus was subject to the approval of the minors’ court-appointed guardian ad litem (GAL). The GAL subsequently entered into two agreements with the co-trustees and certain trust beneficiaries, which excluded the minors’ mother, Christine Chui. Christine, a beneficiary of the trust who had been accused of misappropriating trust assets and committing elder abuse against the trustor, sought to cancel and repudiate the agreements through a variety of procedural methods. The court issued orders enforcing the settlement agreement as it related to Christine, denying the first GAL agreement, and approving the second GAL agreement, overruling Christine’s objections. Christine’s request to remove the GAL was denied, and the GAL’s request to represent the minors in related probate cases was granted. Christine and her minor children appealed, challenging the orders enforcing the settlement agreements, among other things.
The appellate court affirmed. The settlement agreement was not procedurally unconscionable because Christine was present in court when the terms were put on the record, represented by three lawyers, and personally affirmed that she heard and understood all of the terms. Nor was it substantively unconscionable because it did not produce a more unfavorable result than losing at trial. Under Probate Code section 259, a person who, among other things, is liable for physical or financial elder abuse or neglect will be deemed to have predeceased the decedent only to the extent the person would have been entitled through a will, trust, or intestacy to receive a share of the damages and costs the person is found to be liable to pay the estate. The section limits what the abuser may receive, but does not expand the rights of others or create a rule for interpreting provisions of a trust document. As to proceedings involving minors, the court has discretion as to whether to appoint a guardian ad litem. In the absence of a guardian ad litem, a minor does not represent herself, but instead the court serves to protect the minor’s interest and may approve a settlement agreement negotiated by a guardian ad litem who may not be appointed for the minors in a related case.