December 14, 2016

Transferring Trust Property

One of the primary rules when administering a trust is for the trustee to follow its terms. Probate Code §16000, Penny v Wilson (2004) 123 CA4th 596. For example, if the trust provides for an equal distribution of trust assets to 4 beneficiaries, then logically each beneficiary would receive a 25% interest. A trustee cannot simply deviate from the terms of the trust arbitrarily.

A recent unpublished appellate opinion detailed the interesting story of one trustee. 

Kiwata v. Kiwata, San Francisco County Superior Court, Case # CGC14542957   

"Years ago, Richard and Howard's parents, the Kiwatas, and their aunt and uncle, the Hironakas, acquired property in San Francisco on Collins Street. Each couple initially had a one-half interest in the property.

The Kiwatas transferred their interest into the Kiwata Family Trust, of which Richard became the trustee.

The Hironakas first transferred their interest into the Hironaka Revocable Trust and then, in late 2008 after the death of one of the Hironakas, partly into the Hironaka Family Trust (65.41 percent of the one-half interest) and partly into the Yoshiko Hironaka Surviving Spouse's Trust (34.59 percent of the one-half interest). Over several years, ending in May 2013, a series of deeds resulted in absorption of the survivor trust's interest into the family trust, such that the Hironaka Family Trust eventually owned all of the one-half interest. Upon the death of both Hironakas, Howard became the trustee of the Hironaka Family Trust, with Richard as successor trustee if Howard can no longer perform trustee duties.

In the meantime, earlier in 2013, Richard recorded two deeds. The first, recorded in February and executed by Richard as trustee, purported to transfer the Kiwata Family Trust's interest in the Collins Street property to the Richard Kiwata Family Trust. However, at his deposition, Richard conceded he never actually created the Richard Kiwata Family Trust. The second deed, recorded in March and executed by Richard as supposed cotrustee, purported to transfer 37.5 percent of the Collins Street property from the Hironaka Revocable Trust to Richard, individually. However, as just described, the Hironaka Revocable Trust by then had no interest in the property (the interest having been transferred in 2008 to the Hironaka Family Trust and Yoshiko Hironaka Surviving Spouse's Trust). Further, according to Howard's trial testimony and the trust documents, Richard was never a trustee of any Hironaka trust."

In short, for the February 2013 deed, Richard transferred a property interest to a trust that never existed. For the March 2013 deed, Richard transferred a property interest from a trust that no longer existed and was never a trustee of said trust. Naturally both deeds were declared void by the trial court for the aforementioned reasons. This decision was upheld on appeal.