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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Woman who left millions to gardener made defensive moves to ward off lawsuit by daughter

What an interesting story! In this case, a woman in California named Constance Doolittle made a will to dispose of her estate worth about $8.5 million. She left approximately $3 million of this in a trust for the benefit of her gardener. She was estranged from her two daughters, but left each of them about a half million dollars. She died in 2014.

Constance's daughter, Susan Doolittle, sued the estate saying that the gardener had manipulated her mother into leaving all of this money to him. She is alleging elder financial abuse.

Here's where it gets interesting. Apparently Constance knew her daughter well, and figured that she'd sue, so she prepared for that. She had herself examined by a psychologist, who prepared a report saying that she was competent to make financial decisions. She also had her estate planning lawyer sign documents stating that she was competent and that her decisions were not induced by fraud on the part of the gardener. All of these documents were kept with her will, just in case they were needed.

I am so impressed with Constance Doolittle's ability - and willingness - to see her situation in a realistic light and to plan ahead. Very few executors have the benefit of this kind of planning when they are forced to defend an estate.

The case is far from over. The latest from the California court is a ruling that the executor of the estate (i.e. the bank that holds the estate trust) is allowed to use the trust fund to defend the estate against the daughter's lawsuit. I'll be keeping an eye on this one to see how Constance's defensive moves work for her.

This story was reported on, for those who want to read about it in more detail.

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