October 17, 2023

Truste Removal

Life is not fair. Bad things can happen to good people and good things can happen to bad people.

A recent unpublished appellate opinion detailed the story of one unfortunate trustee.

"Lerae Bush amended her living trust several times. Initially, the successor trustee was Caroline Lee Holmes; however, after Bush legally adopted Noel Montes Cazares, she made him the successor trustee. She also gave the trustee more and more discretion to choose the beneficiaries."

"Bush died in a fire. Cazares was arrested and charged with her murder. The trial court therefore removed him as trustee, "until all matters related to the death of [Bush] are fully understood and adjudicated, or further order of the Court," and it appointed Holmes and Jennifer Haas, a professional independent fiduciary, as cotrustees."

"Holmes filed a petition seeking approval of her choice of beneficiaries. Cazares — still in jail — asked the trial court to stay the petition 'until my criminal issues are resolved.' The trial court granted Holmes's petition; it ruled that, because Cazares was not a trustee or a beneficiary, he had no standing to oppose it. Cazares attempted to appeal, but his notice of appeal was untimely."

"Thereafter, the charges against Cazares were dismissed, and his arrest record was expunged. He then petitioned to be appointed trustee (and executor of Bush's estate). The trial court denied these petitions, ruling again that he lacked standing."

In short, Cazares did nothing wrong but was removed as trustee merely because he could not perform his duties from a jail cell. However, despite being exonerated, he was able to be reinstated as trustee because he did not timely appeal a court order while incarcerated. I recognize that inmates can file appeals from prison, and many do, but it is still nonetheless a daunting task.

Estate of Bush, Riverside County Superior Court case nos. PRIN1801843, PRIN1802480