Butler v. LeBoeuf
Filed June 20, 2016, Second District, Div. Six Cite as B259534
LeBouef was an estate planning attorney who was the principal beneficiary and the nominated trustee under a testamentary trust executed by Patton, a vulnerable elder. The trial court invalidated the gift to LeBouef under Probate Code section 21380, which provides that a gift to the drafter of a donative instrument is presumptively the product of fraud or undue influence. Despite LeBouef’s denial, the trial court determined he was the drafter, and that he faked a burglary in which the original estate plan was stolen to prevent forensic examination of the original documents. In reaching its conclusion, the court admitted evidence of estate plans LeBouef prepared for other vulnerable elders, Irene Grant and Audrey Cook, under which he or his life partner were the primary beneficiaries.
The Court of Appeal affirmed. Evidence Code section 1101(b) allows admission of evidence of prior acts if they are relevant to prove some fact, such as motive, intent, opportunity, knowledge, or plan. The circumstances surrounding preparation of the Grant and Cook wills were similar in many ways to the circumstances here, including the fact that those wills were prepared on the same forms as the Patton will, and contained the same misspellings and grammatical errors. Evidence of the preparation of the Grant and Cook wills supported the existence of knowledge, opportunity and plan. Thus, substantial evidence supported the court’s conclusion that the same person, LeBouef, prepared all of the wills. LeBouef was not entitled to trustees’ fees, or attorneys’ fees to defend the heirs’ action, because the trust was void. He was also ordered to pay the heirs’ attorneys’ fees because, under section 21380, a beneficiary who is unsuccessful in rebutting the presumption of fraud or undue influence must pay the prevailing party’s attorneys’ fees.