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Dear Ms. Brewer:  

My late sister passed away in 2009 and provided my mother (now 90 years old) with a life estate to her home here in California, through her living trust. I hold an undivided equal ownership interest of the entire estate with my three remaining siblings.  As agreed by all of us, I moved into the house to care for Mom and the property.  My only income now is a monthly lifetime benefit from my late sister's pension plan.

My other sister "Scandalous", is the executrix and trustee, who along with the other sister "Heartless", aka "the Impropriety Twins", have not only ignored my late sister's intentions and written terms of the trust, they took it upon themselves to create and coercing the enforcement of agreement documents after the trust became Irrevocable.  

For instance, refusing to give a car(specific gift) to my sister's partner unless their pet was handed over in exchange. "Heartless" wanted her son to have it.  So "Scandalous" retained the car, put it in her name
individually, took out a personal loan on it and made all the payments with the trust's funds.

"Scandalous" then manipulated Mom into signing a disclaimer of her life estate three years ago by telling her it would provide a tax reduction to the estate and us.  Luckily, Mom told me right away and I was able to force my sister to give it back to Mom and prevented it from being filed with the county.

They then threatened to evict me, leaving Mom without a caregiver since they both refused to care for her. I have been able to fend off their attacks on me and my significant other of the past thirteen years, even though they have made our lives miserable.  They then crossed all ethical lines by filing a petition with the court saying the trust merely allowed her to live here and did not grant her a life estate.  Mom was represented by Senior Legal Services and went to mediation.  However, there was no mention of the life estate issue.  Instead, the entire discussion focused on me being allowed to live in the home to care for Mom and due to the unknown depletion of most of the trust assets, I was told that I would have to pay rent to the trust in order to sustain the income that would allow Mom to continue to live in the home, even though we had already assumed the trust's responsibility of payment of all the utilities and the trust now only pays the property taxes and insurance.  Being shanghaied like that,  unrepresented and unaware of the consequences, I gave in after seven hours and orally agreed so we could continue to live here. I refused to sign both the "settlement agreement" and "lease agreement" which stated that by agreeing, I was waiving all my rights forever to make any claims against "Scandalous and Heartless" for all their improprieties, breaches of trust and embezzlement of the trust assets.  The judge has now enforced the settlement under CCP 664.6, charged me with $10,000. of their attorney fees plus I am being forced into funding my own inheritance, which my siblings will receive 3/4 of what I paid out.  

I can't thank you enough as in the process of my endless hours of legal research, I discovered your answers to AVVO questions wherein you advised that there is a California Civil Code Section that states one owner cannot charge another owner rent. I stopped making payments three months ago.  Of course now, I am being threatened again with eviction, being embarrassed to find 3-Day and 60-Day Notices posted on my garage door for all my neighbors to see.  The hardest cut of all is my poor Mother's quality of life diminish and watching her becoming more and more depressed as she worries about me being tossed out on the street.

I cannot afford to file an appeal.  Is there anyway that I can file a petition to strike the judgment and force an accounting  and make the court aware of my sister's malicious prosecution and abuse?  What is the specific Cal. Civil Code Section that forbids one owner charging rent from another?  I know of Cal. Civil Code Section 843 describing the ouster and partitions, but have not been able to find the other.  

Thank you so much in advance for any response and insight you can provide me on how I should proceed from here.

Answer
I'm glad you found my answers on Avvo useful.  But you might have misinterpreted them ... a co-owner cannot be forced to pay rent, absent a written agreement.  However, since there's a court order for you to make payments, I don't know if that overrides the statute or not (generally, a court's order will stand unless it's appealed within a certain period of time).

There's a good explanation here:  http://nationalparalegal.edu/public_documents/courseware_asp_files/realProperty/

You can also google "california concurrent ownership possession" or 'co-owner equal rights possession".

And you should also know that life estates have different rules, including the duty to maintain the premises.  See:  http://trusts-estates.lawyers.com/estate-planning/Life-Estates.html

And, finally, your situation is different still because there is a living trust involved ... in that case, it is the trustee who controls everything - technically, you only own a "beneficial interest" in the trust and so does your mother; that indeed is not the same as owning a "life estate" or being a "co-owner".  

... which is all a long way of saying that the trustee might, indeed, have the right to evict you and your mother, unless the trustee is acting "in bad faith" (and you can prove it).

If your sister has not filed any "accountings", then it is your MOTHER (as the "lifetime beneficiary of the trust") who has the right to file a petition to compel an accounting.  If there was embezzlement, as you allege, it should be evident in the accountings.  And that would be grounds ("cause" in legalese) for petitioning to remove the trustee.  In addition, you should see what the trust document says about your mother's rights to remove the trustee (does the document give the beneficiaries the right to remove a trustee "with or without cause", for example?  If so, your mother is probably the person who can exercise these rights).

This is not something that you can easily do yourself.  There are no "check the box" type forms here.  And, unfortunately, this is not something that legal aid does - but perhaps Senior Legal Services in your area provides assistance.  And as a last resort, depending on the county, you might be able to file a complaint against your sister for "financial abuse of the elderly" or contact the public guardian's office to see if they will establish a "limited conservatorship" for your mother.

Hope that helps.

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Janet Brewer

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BE CAREFUL about taking legal advice from non-lawyers.

I am a licensed attorney in California. I am available to answer questions about probating estates, preparing wills and trusts, administering estates and trusts, forming family limited partnerships and limited liability companies, and establishing a wide variety of estate and gift tax-sensitive trusts (charitable trusts, children's trusts, irrevocable life insurance trusts, etc.).

I can also answer questions regarding the preparation of estate tax returns (Form 706) in taxable estates. Please note that I do not prepare trust income tax returns and cannot provide you with any information about that type of return.

Please note: I am only able to practice law in the State of California. I cannot answer specific questions about other states' laws; I can only provide some "general" information that may or may not apply to your situation.

Experience

I have practiced California estate, gift-planning, and probate law exclusively since 1991. I am certified as a specialist in estate planning and probate law by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization (there are less than 125 such specialists practicing in Santa Clara County and fewer than 7,000 practicing in California - out of over 170,000 lawyers statewide).

I have served as an Instructor in the CFP (certificate in financial planning) program at University of California Santa Cruz, teaching the estate planning segment.

Organizations
Silicon Valley Bar Association
Wealth Counsel
Wealth Advisors' Forum
Executive Committee Member, Solo and Small Firm Section of the California State Bar (appointed to a 3 year term by the California State Bar Board of Governors)

Education/Credentials
I received my law degree (J.D.) from University of Denver Law School in 1975. I was admitted to the Colorado Bar in 1975 and to the California Bar in 1977 (NOTE: although I am a member of the Colorado Bar, I am on INACTIVE status there). I earned an M.B.A. in 1982, and I earned a Masters Degree in Taxation Law (LLM) at Golden Gate University Law School in 2010 (with honors).

More at:
http://www.calprobate.com

Awards and Honors
2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, & 2012 - chosen as a "SuperLawyer" - one of the top 5% of Northern California lawyers practicing in the estate planning and probate area (www.superlawyers.com). Avvo Rating of 10.0/10.0

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