Trusts and Estates

Ring v. Harmon

Cite as E075232

Filed December 15, 2021, Fourth District, Div. Two

By Jaime B. Herren
Holland & Knight LLP

Headnotes: Financial Elder Abuse ā€“ Standing ā€“ Special Circumstance

Summary: Where an elder is both beneficiary and personal representative, she has standing to bring an individual action for financial elder abuse regarding injury arising from an estate transaction impairing her individual interest in the estate.

Ring, the decedentā€™s 80 year old mother, was the personal representative and a beneficiary under the decedentā€™s will.  Acting in her fiduciary capacity as personal representative, Ring took out a loan against the decedentā€™s home, a transaction she later alleged was the result of predatory lending, elder abuse, and other torts.  Ring, acting only in her individual capacity, filed a complaint in which she alleged that she was induced by defendants to be appointed as personal representative of the estate and take certain actions as personal representative, including taking the loan against the decedentā€™s home.  The trial court sustained the defendantsā€™ demurrer as to all causes of action in the complaint because Ring did not bring the claims in her capacity as personal representative.

The appellate court reversed solely as to the cause of action for financial elder abuse.  There was no authority for Ring to bring a claim for financial elder abuse on behalf of the estate and, although an injured beneficiary would have an independent cause of action against the representative, that means of relief was unavailable to Ring, who was both the injured beneficiary and the personal representative.  Ring was in a special circumstance that justified her individual cause of action for elder abuse, even though the transaction in question was completed by Ring in her fiduciary capacity as personal representative.  Moreover, a claim of financial elder abuse does not require the elder to hold title directly.  Ringā€™s interest in the home held by the estate and her allegation that it was wrongfully burdened with debt was sufficient to state a claim for financial elder abuse.

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