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Court Applies Disentitlement Doctrine in Estate Lawsuit

This case centered on a dispute over the administration of a family trust as well as the interpretation of trust documents. Despite appealing the ruling, the defendant in the case violated court orders and, and the plaintiff moved to dismiss the appeal based on the rules within the disentitlement doctrine.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Adam J. Blumberg v. Gloria M. Minthorne, Gloria and Ralph Minthorne created the Minthorne Family Living Trust in 2008, with Gloria named as the sole trustee. Both parties had children and assets from previous marriages. In regards to the division and distribution of the trust property, one clause stated that the trustee was allowed to transfer the entire estate to a survivor’s trust after the death of one spouse. Another clause left “all the rest, residue, and remainder of the trust estate, including the remainder one-half interest” in an apartment building to Ralph’s children and grandchildren.

Ralph Minthorne died in November 2008, and Gloria’s attorney informed Ralph’s grandchildren, including Adam Blumberg, that the apartment building was to be sold and distributed to the family members. The building went in escrow at $925,000 but Gloria’s attorney refused to give the grandchildren an accounting of the estate. Finally, in May 2009 Mr. Blumberg was informed that the price dropped to $800,000 and that the net proceeds were $313.000. Adam filed a petition in October 2010 to remove Gloria as trustee, recover trust property, compel an accounting, and appoint a successor trustee.

Ruling of the Court

The trial court found Gloria liable to Ralph’s children and grandchildren. She was replaced as trustee by Adam Blumberg and was ordered to hand over property to the trust. She was also ordered to file an accounting with the court. Gloria appealed the ruling in December, 2012. The day before a status hearing on the appeal, Gloria quitclaimed the property in question to her daughter, and after months of promising to do so she never filed an accounting with the court.

Her and her attorney failed to appear for multiple court hearings, and she never disclosed the quitclaim deed to Mr. Blumberg. When he finally learned of the quitclaim, Adam filed a motion to dismiss Gloria’s appeal. The appellate court agreed and based its decision on the disentitlement doctrine. This doctrine gives the court the right to dismiss an appeal if a party refuses to comply with a lower court’s order.

Under this doctrine, a party cannot “ask the aid and assistance of a court in hearing his demands while he stands in an attitude of contempt.” It is not seen as a punishment, but as a means to induce compliance with a valid order. In this case, Gloria disobeyed two court orders. First, she failed to submit an accounting of the trust and estate to the court. Second, she failed to quitclaim her property to Mr. Blumberg and in blatant disrespect of the court quitclaim the deed to her daughter. As a result, the disentitlement doctrine was properly applied, and Gloria’s appeal was dismissed.

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