Elder-Abuse Claims Negate Estate Inheritance

     (CN) – A California attorney cannot keep a deceased designer’s $5 million estate after being accused of taking advantage of several elderly clients, a state appeals court ruled.
     Interior designer John A. Patton died in 2011 at the age of 73 after suffering from depression, diabetes, hepatitis, alcohol abuse and other maladies.
     His housekeeper testified that in the final months of his life, Patton would drink to excess, howl like a dog and fall down.
     Attorney John F. LeBouef and his life and business partner, Mark Krajewski, often visited Patton, who was grieving the 2004 death of his domestic partner, Leo Duval.
     Although Patton complained that LeBouef visited too often and had moved his money around, he allegedly executed a will in 2006 that bequeathed his $5 million estate to LeBouef, according to court records.
     Patton’s nieces and previous beneficiaries, Kim Butler and Julie Butler Black, moved to invalidate the will and remove LeBouef as trustee of Patton’s revocable trust.
     They claimed that LeBouef had made similar arrangements with elderly clients on eight other occasions. The court limited the evidence to that of two trusts.
     In the first case, LeBouef helped Irene Grant to inherit $2.5 million from Walter Pick after she had served as his caretaker.
     LeBouef then married Grant, who was 20 years his senior, and he received the majority of the estate after she died.
     When LeBouef’s 90-year-old friend Audrey Cook died in 2007, most of her estate was left to Krajewski. Rick Jong, another friend of Cook, testified that Cook did not even know Krajewski.
     LeBouef argued at trial that Patton’s original trust document had been stolen in a burglary.
     The trial court rejected the theory that the document and LeBouef’s laptop had gone “missing in the course of a very peculiar burglary from a house filled with valuable objects, wherein only a handful of random items were taken, including said laptop, and an unsecured plastic box of random documents, that just happened to include the items necessary to a full understanding of the facts of this matter.”
     The trial court ruled in the nieces’ favor, and the Ventura-based California Second District Court of Appeal agreed in a June 20 decision written by Justice Kenneth R. Yegan.
     “An ethical estate planning attorney will plan for his client, not for himself,” he wrote. “A license to practice law is not a license to take advantage of an elderly and mentally infirm client.”
     Yegan stated that the trial court’s finding are “disturbing” and “suggest criminal culpability.”
     He also compared the missing will to Sherlock Holmes’ “dog in the night” that failed to bark.
     “Assuming that Patton hired another lawyer to draft the will and trust, one would expect to see billings, correspondence, a check for legal services, an estate planning questionnaire, and the lawyer’s name on the estate planning documents,” Yegan wrote.
     The appeals court also upheld the trial court’s award of $1.2 million in attorney fees to the nieces.
     “The case was complicated and contentious, involved three years of litigation, a five-week trial, more than 35 witnesses, and two statements of decision,” Yegan stated.

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