Probate & Trusts – Care Custodian

Person is not ‘care custodian’ under Probate Code by providing limited assistance services to decedent before he was placed in nursing home.

A California Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s decision in DAWN AUSTIN V. DEBRA SIMPSON.  Appellant claimed that respondent was a care custodian for appellant’s father and that this designation invalidated several monetary gifts given to respondent by appellant’s father.  The lower court found that appellant failed to prove that respondent was a care custodian, thus validating the monetary gifts.  The appellate court affirmed this decision.

Appellant, Dawn Austin (the daughter of decedent Donald Richard Austin) petitioned to be appointed the personal representative of her father’s estate.  Respondent, Debra Simpson (the daughter of decedent’s former wife) filed an objection to that petition.  A public administrator was assigned to the estate and Debra was ordered to turn over the funds from checks that decedent had given her.  The court held trial and determined that the gifts to Debra were valid; Dawn appealed.

In November 2006, decedent was placed in a nursing home following a triple bypass surgery.  He then returned home until he could no longer care for himself, and then was placed back in a nursing home.  Prior to decedent’s death, his mother passed away.  His brother Wesley became trustee of her trust.  Wesley and his wife went to visit the decedent in the nursing home to see what he wanted to do with the funds left to him in his mother’s trust.  Decedent decided he wanted to give the money to Debra.  There were a total of six checks written, dated between April 5 & July 10, 2007, totaling approximately $185,000.

Dawn claims that Debra was a “care custodian of a dependent adult” (as termed in Probate Code section 21350) and is therefore disqualified from receiving gifts or property from that dependent adult.

The court acknowledges that “the party asserting invalidity must prove the transferee is one of the disqualified persons listed in section 21350.”  The trial court found that Dawn did not meet this burden; she failed to prove that Debra was a care custodian to the decedent.

Section 21350 of the Probate Code provides:

“’Care custodian’ means an administrator or an employee of any of the following public or private facilities or agencies, or persons providing care of services for elders or dependent adults, including member of the support staff and maintenance:

“(y) Any other protective, public, sectarian, mental health, or private assistance or advocacy agency or person providing health services or social services to elders or dependent adults.”

However, the appellate court found no evidence that Debra was ever a care custodian.  They found her services to be “much more limited, consisting only of driving [decedent] to the doctor, preparing some of his meals, and unspecified helping out.”

The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision, validating the gifts given to Debra by the decedent.

Quotes and information gathered from The Daily Recorder, Vol. 103, No. 180, September 17, 2010 Daily Appellate Report, Part II.