Trusts and Estates
Donkin v. Donkin
Cite as B293127
Filed April 3, 2020, Second District, Div. One.
By Daniel C. Kim
Weintraub Tobin Chediak Coleman Grodin Law Corporation
Headnote: Trustees – Unauthorized Practice of Law
Summary: Trustees representing themselves do not engage in the unauthorized practice of law in probate matters not involving third parties.
Rodney Donkin, Jr. and Vicki Rose Donkin were successor trustees of a family trust established by Rodney Donkin, Sr., and Mary Donkin. The successor trustees, in pro per, petitioned, inter alia, for instructions regarding trust interpretation. The trial court ruled against the successor trustees’ interpretation, and they appealed.
Held: Affirmed. In the published portion of the opinion the court discussed, and disagreed with, the beneficiaries’ argument that the successor trustees’ self-representation constituted the unauthorized practice of law. California cases have held that a non-attorney trustee who represents a trust in court against third parties is representing and affecting the interests of beneficiaries, and is thus engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. However, the court distinguished such matters – non-probate litigation between trusts and third parties – from probate proceedings between trustees and trust beneficiaries. In such probate proceedings, as was the case here, the trustee is adverse to beneficiaries, is not representing the beneficiaries’ interests, and thus may represent him or herself.