Probate & Trusts – Statute of Limitations

Action by estate administrator against recipients of deceased’s real property is not barred by statute of limitations.

A California Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s decision in the case of STEVEN A. WEINKAUF v. TIMOTHY FLOREZ.  The probate court’s decision was that two donative transfers of real property by the decedent (Grant William Hastie) were invalid.  Florez appealed this ruling, contending that the action by the estate administrator was barred by a statute of limitations.  Judge J. Haerle agreed with the probate court and also found that “appellant failed to establish that respondent’s action to invalidate the deeds was time-barred.”

Hastie died on July 6, 2006.  At the time, there were only two known heirs: James D. McCarty and David W. McCarty, sons of his wife, Mamie Hastie, who had died 8 years prior.  For years before his death, decedent Hastie had maintained a close friendship with defendant Bingham Liverman.  In October 1999, Hastie granted Liverman power of attorney, up until and including the date of his death.

In 2000, Liverman drafted a Change in Beneficiary form that would name Liverman and his daughter, Carmen Florez, the beneficiaries of Hastie’s $150,000 insurance policy.  In 2001, Carmen became an in-house caregiver for Hastie, an arrangement made by her father.  Also in 2001, Liverman convinced Hastie to transfer an interest in his only real property to Liverman’s granddaughter (Carmen’s daughter), Jenny.  Hastie executed a joint tenancy grant deed in her favor on June 13, 2001.

In 2006, while Hastie was in the hospital a few weeks prior to his death, Liverman convinced Hastie to transfer his remaining interest in the real property to his Liverman’s grandson (Carmen’s son), Timothy (appellant).  Hastie executed this deed in June 2006, with no monetary exchange for the entire interest in his property.

Immediately after Hastie’s death, Liverman wrote a letter to the McCarty’s, informing them that “his relationship with Hastie was not charitable, but rather was that of a caretaker, legal guardian, a business matter, and in expectation of compensation.”

Following this, the McCartys hired George Weinkauf as their attorney and nominated his brother, Steven Weinkauf, to act as administrator of Hastie’s estate.  Steven has no other relationship to the decedent and no other role in this action.  On August 29, 2007, Steven filed a complaint, and on May 9, 2008 filed an amended complaint, seeking a decision that deemed certain deeds to Liverman’s family invalid.

Both parties filed motions for summary adjudication.  The administrator’s motion requested a judgment pursuant to Probate Code section 21350, finding that the 2001 deed, the 2006 deed and all other subsequent deeds based on these two precluding deeds to be invalid.  Appellant’s only response to the administrator’s motion and the only basis for his own motion was his claim that this action was barred by the statute of limitations.

The probate court declared both the 2001 & 2006 deeds invalid; the 2007 grant deed and deed of trust were also deemed invalid because they were based on the 2001 & 2006 deeds.  The court ordered the return of the real property to the Hastie Estate and awarded $150,000 for the decedent’s retirement annuity.  This judgment was filed and entered on November 30, 2009.  Appellant filed his appeal on December 7, 2009.

In the appellate court’s opinion, Judge Haerle discusses the statute of limitations for an action brought to dispute a donative transfer.  Section (b) of this statute states “In case of any transfer other than by will, within the later of three years after the transfer becomes irrevocable or three years from the date the person bringing the action discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, the facts material to the transfer.”

Haerle notes that despite other options for appealing the decision, the appellant only chose to contest the statute of limitations in this case.  He contends that they were “left with…unambiguous statutory language,” when making their decision.  Thus, the appellate court declared that the administrator’s action was not time-barred.

Quotes and information gathered from The Daily Recorder, Vol. 103, No. 142, July 26, 2010 Daily Appellate Report.