A carefully drafted estate plan is supposed to ensure that the wishes of the trustor will be carried out, even as circumstances change over what may be many years between the drafting of the plan and when it becomes effective.

But the reality can be a lot less smooth, especially when it involves tens of millions of dollars, a second marriage, dementia, bitterly litigious attorneys, and other volatile ingredients, as demonstrated by a case recently decided by the California Court of Appeal (Tedesco v. White).

In 1988, Thomas Tedesco a very successful real estate investor in Riverside County, and his wife created an estate plan to benefit their three daughters.

Mrs. Tedesco died some years later, and in 2007 Thomas married Gloria, who had two daughters from a prior relationship. Both Thomas and Gloria had multi-million-dollar estates, and they executed prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.

In 2011, Thomas appointed his three daughters as “his true and lawful attorneys” to act for him and in his name. They were authorized to transfer trust assets, file his tax returns, and serve as his conservator if he needed one.

In 2013, Thomas underwent several surgeries. He then resigned as trustee of his living trust, and his three daughters began to serve as successor cotrustees. Later that year he amended the living trust to make it irrevocable and unmodifiable without his and his daughters’ written consent.

By the fall of 2013, Thomas' memory was so impaired that he stopped paying his bills and taxes.  He also fired his estate planning attorney after a decades-long relationship.  The attorney later testified that “Gloria seemed to be blocking” his calls to Thomas.

Around the same time, Gloria isolated Thomas from his three daughters. Gloria reportedly removed the three girls’ photos from the home and prepared scripts for Thomas to read to new attorneys, saying he wanted to change his long-established estate planning to disinherit his three daughters and instead give 75% of his estate to Gloria, including his home, with the remainder to go to charity.

One of Thomas' daughters was rightfully concerned about Gloria's undue influence over her dad so she petitioned the court to appoint a conservator for Thomas.  During those proceedings, a neurologist evaluated Thomas and found he had significant cognitive impairment and needed total supervision.

In 2014 a guardian ad litem, or legal representative, was appointed by the court to safeguard his rights and retain an attorney to represent him. Almost a year later, Thomas was placed in a temporary conservatorship due to his cognitive decline and susceptibility to undue influence.

Gloria, still trying to assert her influence over Thomas for her personal benefit, sought to have an attorney of her choosing appointed to represent Thomas.  The court saw through this ploy and rejected her request.

Thomas' daughter then obtained a temporary restraining order against one of Gloria’s daughters, Ms. Wear, on the basis that Wear was “scheming to sabotage” Thomas’s relationship with his daughters, change his estate plan to favor Gloria, and remove Thomas’s daughters as trustees. Gloria’s daughter refused to accept service of the TRO.

Russell Davis, an attorney for whom Wear worked as a paralegal, “repeatedly requested to be appointed counsel for Thomas,” but these applications were denied. Davis was told that any further contact with Thomas could lead to him being prosecuted for elder abuse.

Gloria, Davis, and Wear nonetheless continued to file legal actions aimed at gaining control over Thomas’s estate and financial decision-making.  Davis once again sought to be appointed as Thomas’s counsel, but the court instead appointed independent counsel to represent Thomas' interests.

In 2017, Gloria moved to disqualify Judge Cox, claiming he was not impartial; he recused himself.  The case was assigned to Judge Cahraman. Gloria’s legal team moved to disqualify him, and the case was reassigned to Judge Evans.

In 2020, Judge Evans issued an Elder Abuse Restraining Order against Gloria, White, Davis, and others, ordering them to stop contacting Thomas or trying to change his estate plan, and to stay at least 100 yards away from him.

Gloria and her associates then challenged Judge Evans, and the case was assigned to Judge Fernandez.

In 2021, Gloria petitioned to set aside the conservatorship, alleging fraud, deceit, and elder abuse by Thomas’ daughters, their lawyers, and Thomas’ court-appointed counsel. The court rejected their petition, and Gloria appealed.

The appellate court rejected what it called her “myriad of disjointed arguments.”  The court determined that the time for Gloria to challenge the conservatorship order had “long since passed.”  Also, because Gloria had not previously objected to the conservatorship, she was barred from challenging the order.  Rather than objecting to the procedures of the probate court, she and her associates fully participated in them.

The court rejected Gloria's claim that the probate court and/or the conservator interfered with Thomas’s ability to be represented by an attorney of his own choosing, stating “If anyone has interfered with the adjudication of Thomas’s rights, it has been Gloria (and Wear).”

The justices affirmed the conservatorship order issued by the probate court and awarded costs to Thomas’s three daughters.

By Jessica Stemple