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Bruce J. Gary
List of Recent Cases

In the Matter of the DOE FAMILY TRUST

Settlement obtained without filing suit.

These clients came to Bruce J. Gary following the death of their father. Years earlier, mother and father had established a living trust which became partially irrevocable on mother’s death in 1994. Years later, after father’s death, children learned that father had improperly divided the trust and mismanaged the trust for years in a manner which left mother’s children receiving no inheritance. After preliminary letters and negotiations produced a stonewall response from father’s estate, clients authorized Bruce J. Gary to prepare a petition to the probate court for an accounting and damages. The proposed petition was prepared and sent to the attorneys for the father’s estate with a settlement demand. After several weeks of negotiations, a favorable settlement was reached without a single court filing.

In the Matter of THE DR. WALTER F. COMBS, O.D., LIVING TRUST DATED OCTOBER 24, 2003, AS AMENDED, Orange County Superior Court Case No. A223980

Judgment in favor of Respondent Douglas Fletcher, represented by Bruce J. Gary, and Lisa Combs, represented by other counsel.

This lawsuit involved a trust drafted by Bruce J. Gary two months before Dr. Combs’ death. A few weeks later, Dr. Combs consulted Mr. Gary about amendments to his estate plans, but was undecided about whether to proceed with the amendments and wanted to consult further with his family. He was being pulled in different directions by various family members who had conflicting desires. Dr. Combs finally made up his mind and the amendment was prepared and signed three weeks before Dr. Combs’ death on December 31, 2003. After Dr. Combs’ death, Kelly Combs, one of Dr. Combs’ children, filed a contest of the trust amendment and sought to have the successor trustee, Douglas Fletcher, removed as trustee. Trial commenced December 15, 2005 before Hon. Gerald Johnston, Judge of Superior Court and testimony concluded on March 24, 2006. Judgment was entered June 27, 2006 in favor of Lisa Combs and Douglas Fletcher and against Kelly Combs. The Court found that the trust was valid, found that Kelly Combs had violated the trust’s no-contest clause, and found that Kelly Combs had as a result been disinherited from receiving any bequests from the trust. Kelly Combs appealed the judgment. The decision was appealed by Kelly Combs. On February 6, 2008, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit of the State of California affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

MICHAEL J. v. SUPERIOR COURT, Orange County Superior Court Case No. A176260

Writ in favor of Petitioner Michael J. represented by Bruce J. Gary. This case involved a severely disabled wife and mother who received brain injuries during her daughter’s birth. Mr. Gary represented the husband who was attempting to prevent his wife’s family from forcing a conservator for the wife from filing divorce proceedings against the husband’s will. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit of the State of California agreed with Mr. Gary’s position that the superior court cannot use the substituted judgment procedure to initiate proceedings for dissolution of the marriage.

In the matter of the Conservatorship of the Person and Estate of MARJORIE BRANDENBURG, Conservatee, Orange County Superior Court Case No. A207768

Mr. Gary was appointed as attorney for Mrs. Brandenburg by the Court.

When Mr. Gary was first appointed to represent Mrs. Brandenburg in the probate conservatorship proceedings, he learned that an LPS conservatorship case, number A207281, was also simultaneously proceeding through the Courts and that Mrs. Brandenburg had been placed in a locked Alzheimer’s facility against her will by her son although she had no diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s. In the LPS proceedings, Mrs. Brandenburg was being represented by counsel from the Orange County Public Defender’s office. Mr. Gary met with Mrs. Brandenburg and determined that she was able to clearly communicate and had a generalized awareness of what was taking place. She opposed a probate conservatorship and was extremely upset at the actions of her son in removing her from her home and placing her in a locked facility. Mr. Gary successfully presented a writ of habeas corpus to allow Mrs. Brandenburg to be released from the locked facility and to return to her home. When she returned to her home, Mrs. Brandenburg found that her house had been emptied of most of her possessions. Mr. Gary interviewed neighbors and learned that the son had spent considerable time removing the possessions from the house and holding garage sales. He also determined from neighbors that the son had been retrieving mail from the residence, but that he had selectively been paying some bills and not others. Mrs. Brandenburg requested Mr. Gary to pursue claims against her son for removal and destruction of personal property from the residence, and to regain title and control over her two rental properties and her primary residence in La Habra. Mrs. Brandenburg had years’ earlier placed title to these properties in her children’s names as joint tenants for testamentary purposes only, and she stated a desire to regain control over her own property. Consequently, Mr. Gary prepared and filed a Petition For Issuance Of Temporary Restraining Order, Citation And Order To Show Cause, For Recovery Of Personal Property, For Recovery Of Joint Tenancy Real Property, And For Accounting, which was filed with the Court and set for hearing. Shortly before trial, a settlement acceptable to Mrs. Brandenburg was reached with her children.

In re the matter of THE BULMAN REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST Under Declaration of Trust dated August 10, 1994, Orange County Superior Court Case No. A222147

Mr. Gary represented Richard and David Bulman, co-trustees of their parents’ trust. Another sibling was appointed as a third co-trustee. However, the third trustee was uncooperative and refused to communicate with her brothers concerning the administration of the trust. It was believed that the sibling had cashed checks belonging to the trust and collected insurance belonging to the trust and was keeping the proceeds for herself. Mr. Gary filed a petition to remove the third co-trustee and at the hearing, the sibling agreed to resign as trustee and surrender all trust funds in her custody. The resigned co-trustee was ordered to file an accounting. A number of uncashed checks were delivered by the resigned trustee following her resignation, but the checks were dishonored by the banks due to the amount of time that had passed between when the checks were issued and when they were delivered to Objectors. Details were discovered about life insurance collections. As a result, a surcharge action was filed by Mr. Gary against the resigned trustee. The matter was successfully resolved through negotiations and settlement resulting in full repayment of all damages by the resigned trustee.

In the matter of the DERNER REVOCABLE INTER VIVOS TRUST dated April 10, 1996, Orange County Superior Court Case No. A226694.

Mr. Gary represented Millie Doligosa in an action to determine the validity of a gift to a caregiver that was brought by a trustee. The trustee sought to disinherit Ms. Doligosa under California statutes that invalidate some gifts to caregivers. The trust in question had been written by an attorney and included a blank page at the end of the trust instrument that permits the trust settlors to write in and designate additional gifts from the trust without having to formally amend the trust. When Sam Derner went to see the attorney about making a gift of his residence to Ms. Doligosa, the attorney instructed Mr. Derner to write in the details of the gift on the blank page at the end of the trust. The attorney made no mention to Mr. Derner about California rules concerning gifts to caregivers. Although Mr. Derner followed the instructions of his attorney, after his death the family challenged the gift to the caregiver. The matter was resolved through negotiations and a cash settlement to Ms. Doligosa.

In the Matter of the ALVARO AND RACHEL DEEN TRUST, Imperial County Superior Court, Case No. 14713

Mr. Gary represented Cynthia Deen in this complex litigation arising out of the shooting death of Ms. Deen’s mother and a police chief by Ms. Deen’s brother. Many different issues arose in this litigation. The brother was convicted of the murder and wrongful death litigation involving the police chief’s family ensued in which the police officer’s family sought to reach the murderer’s interest in the family trust. The murderer’s children were potential heirs under California’s statute that prevents murderers from inheriting from the estate of their victim. Mr. Gary represented Ms. Deen in various court proceedings in an effort to secure for Ms. Deen the inheritance left to her by her mother. Ms. Deen’s sister was named successor trustee of the family trust and she engaged in mismanagement of trust assets, leading Mr. Gary to successfully pursue surcharge actions for Ms. Deen against the trustee.

In the Matter of the Conservatorship of the Person and Estate of ABRAHAM J. ZION, Orange County Superior Court, Case No. A218270

Mr. Gary was the court appointed guardian ad litem for Abraham Zion. Mr. Zion had been declared incapacitated by the probate court and because of family problems, none of his family members were able or willing to serve as conservator. The County of Orange Public Administrator was therefore appointed as conservator. The County determined that Mr. Zion had been coerced into signing a gift deed of his home to a son shortly before the conservatorship proceedings were started. The son sold the home for cash and absconded with the money before the County began to take action to recover the home. Thus, Mr. Zion was left with little money or assets to his name. Mr. Gary sued the County of Orange on behalf of Mr. Zion. The matter was resolved through negotiations and a cash settlement paid by the county that was acceptable to Mr. Zion’s family.

In the matter of the ELDEN W. BAINBRIDGE AND SHARON ANN BAINBRIDGE LIFE INSURANCE TRUST, Orange County Superior Court, Case No. A231417

Mr. Gary represented the trustee of a life insurance trust which was no longer economical to keep in existence. Several years after the life insurance trust was established, the trust settlors encountered financial setbacks that rendered them unable to continue making the annual additions of cash to the life insurance trust in order to enable the trustee to pay the annual policy premiums on life insurance policies held in the life insurance trust. The trustee kept the life insurance policies in force by borrowing against accumulated cash surrender values of the life insurance policies held in the life insurance trust. Mr. Gary successfully petitioned the court on behalf of the trustee to approve the trustee’s decision to surrender and liquidate all of the life insurance policies and terminate the trust.

In the Matter of THE CLARENCE L. BEVINGTON TRUST, Under Declaration of Trust dated February 1, 1996, Orange County Superior Court, Case No. A226908

Mr. Gary successfully filed a petition to confirm trust assets in accordance with California Probate Code §17200 and the decision in Estate of Heggstad (1993) 16 Cal. App. 4th 943. Another attorney had assisted the trust settlor with preparing a living trust, but some of the settlor’s assets were never deeded into the trust. Mr. Gary successfully petitioned the court on behalf of the successor trustee to make assets part of the trust, thus avoiding probate of those assets on the settlor’s death.

In the matter of the MARY C. MCKENNA AND VERONICA COCHRAN TRUST dated March 15, 2003, An Intervivos Trust, Orange County Superior Court, Case No. A234551

Mr. Gary successfully recovered assets wrongfully taken from a trust and defeated efforts to cheat family members out of their rightful inheritance. Two elderly sisters had established a joint trust to hold their jointly owned properties. A niece moved in with the sisters to help care for them. After both sisters died, the niece provided little information about assets to other family members, and when finally confronted, she claimed that she alone was named in the sister’s estate planning documents. After family members consulted with Mr. Gary, court proceedings were begun to force disclosure of the estate assets and estate planning documents. The niece was removed as trustee and a new trustee was appointed to administer the trust. Mr. Gary successfully filed suit against the niece and obtained a full recovery of all assets that had been taken from the trust.

In the matter of the IONE A. GOURLEY FAMILY TRUST, Orange County Superior Court, Case No. A226882.

Mr. Gary represented one of two half-sisters who was disinherited by a trust amendment. Mr. Gary filed a contest of the amendment on behalf of one of the sisters based on the trust settlor’s lack of capacity and undue influence exerted by the sister. The matter was resolved on the day of trial through negotiations and a cash settlement to equalize the sisters’ inheritance.

Estate of GEORGIA BOYD, Orange County Superior Court, Case No. A153535

Mr. Gary represented First American Trust Company in this trouble-prone estate. The estate assets included real property that was under lease to a restaurant. The restaurant owners were delinquent on payment of rent, necessitating an eviction action. During the eviction process, a fire destroyed the property, and during the clean-up from the fire, toxic contaminants were discovered upon the property. The troubles included numerous disagreements between the sibling beneficiaries of the estate.


Mr. Gary represented owners of an employment service agency who began to lose business when an employee secretly went into competition with Mr. Gary’s client. Mr. Gary successfully prosecuted this unfair competition lawsuit and obtained a judgment for $1.5 million and injunctions preventing the competitor from engaging in the similar business.

In the matter of the Stanley J. and Sybil BURROUGHS TRUST, Riverside County Superior Court

Mr. Gary represented the successor trustee of the decedent’s trust. The decedent died while traveling overseas with his companion. The companion refused to return the decedent’s automobile and it was discovered that money had been taken from the decedent’s bank account by the friend after death. Mr. Gary obtained a judgment for the trust and recovered the automobile and the money wrongfully taken.

In the matter of the Estate of SCOTT GIBSON, Humboldt County Superior Court, Case No. PRO30310

Mr. Gary represented the executor of this trouble-prone estate. A friend of the decedent presented a creditor’s claim and pursued a Marvin v. Marvin “palimony” type of claim against the estate. Mr. Gary successfully litigated the claims and was able to close the estate in a manner that was beneficial to the decedent’s family.

In the matter of the Estate of RUTH M. SHAPIRO, Orange County Superior Court, Case No. A186746

Mr. Gary represented the executor of this trouble-prone estate and successfully defended against a will contest. At the same time as the will contest was proceeding, a special administrator had to be appointed to handle unique asset situations. The decedent’s husband had started a postage stamp catalog business and the assets of the estate included several rooms full of postage stamps which were of unknown value. Valuing and selling the stamp business was particularly challenging.

In the Matter of the BARAGLIA FAMILY IRREVOCABLE TRUST, Orange County Superior Court Case No. 30-2009-00284119-PR-TR-LJC

Case settled before trial.

Bruce J. Gary successfully defended the drafting attorney that was also named as a successor trustee of an irrevocable life insurance trust. Mr. Gary was retained by the drafting attorney’s insurance carrier.

The trust settlors established two trusts for estate planning purposes. They had a revocable living trust to hold the bulk of their assets and they also established an irrevocable life insurance trust to purchase life insurance that could be used to fund the estate tax liability generated by the family’s successful business. The two trusts had different trustees and different groups of beneficiaries.

When the life insurance proceeds were used to pay the estate taxes, one group of beneficiaries of the life insurance trust sued to complain that they had been forced to pay a disproportionate share of the estate taxes and they claimed they were entitled to distribution from the life insurance trust.

Mr. Gary asserted several defenses on behalf of his client and was prepared to take the matter to trial. A settlement was reached before trial after Mr. Gary presented a settlement demand in accordance with California Code of Civil Procedure Section 998.

In the Matter of the ROE TRUST

Settlement obtained without filing suit.

One of the beneficiaries of a $100 Million trust and estate came to Bruce J. Gary after the trustee (a brother of Mr. Gary’s client) delayed distribution of the trust for several years after the death of their father. The trust assets that should have been distributed to Mr. Gary’s client were being used by the trustee to finance the trustee’s own business ventures when credit became tight in the 2008-2009 financial meltdown.

While the trustee’s handling of the trust was questionable, one of the main concerns of our client was that a public lawsuit would likely expose several sensitive tax matters that could cause an audit of the estate by the Internal Revenue Service and a substantial increase in estate taxes.

After negotiating with the attorney for the trustee concerning the handling of the estate and the lack of an accounting, Mr. Gary was able to obtain trustee accountings for his client, explanations and adjustments from the trustee, and a distribution of the trust without filing suit.

In the Matter of the Estate of Luis Cisneros, Orange County Superior Court Case No.

The estate did not have any assets when Bruce J. Gary became involved in this matter. When Mr. Gary was first contacted by one of the decedent’s heirs concerning this estate, he immediately became suspicious about the non-existence of a probate and the fact that one of the decedent’s adult children had recorded what appeared to be a void deed transferring title to the decedent’s residence to the decedent’s adult child. The ancient deed had been recorded within hours of the decedent’s death.

Mr. Gary prepared and filed a petition to appoint special administrator in order to have someone with authority in a position to pursue a claim for the residence on behalf of the estate. Mr. Gary prepared a Petition to Determine Ownership of Real Property (Probate Code Section 850) attempting to recover the residence for the estate. A lis pendens was also recorded on the property to protect the estate against loss. Mr. Gary communicated to the respondents in an attempt to resolve the case early before a lot of time and money was spent litigating the estate’s claim for the real property. Negotiations resulted in a prompt settlement of the litigation and an agreement to convey the residence to the estate.

Mr. Gary and the administrator conducted an investigation and discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional assets belonging to the estate which had been wrongfully collected by two of the decedent’s children to the exclusion of the other siblings. These assets were eventually collected into the estate and distributed equally among all the children.

In re the Estate of RICHARD HAEUSSLER, Orange County Superior Court Case No. A236397

Non-Performing Administrator Replaced and Estate Successfully Distributed

This estate had been open for four years and the administrator was no longer doing anything to move the estate towards closing when Bruce J. Gary was contacted by one of the creditors who was seeking to force long-overdue payment of creditor’s claim. No inventories or accountings had been prepared when Mr. Gary became involved, and the estate’s primary asset consisted of a vacant house in Newport Beach.

Mr. Gary was successful in assisting with the suspension and removal of the previous administrator, and in arranging for the orderly transition of assets into the possession of the court-appointed successor administrator. Mr. Gary assisted with the investigation of existing assets and review of the unpaid creditor’s claims, and a reconstruction of an accounting for the removed administrator. A settlement was reached with the primary estate creditor, and the estate was successfully closed.

In the matter of the ELIZABETH STALDER REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST AGREEMENT, Orange County Superior Court No. 30-2009-00323673-PR-TR-LJC

Terms of Trust Clarified

Bruce J. Gary represented the trustee in petitioning the Probate Court for instructions and assistance in interpreting a trust prepared by another attorney that had inconsistent instructions concerning the identity of beneficiaries and amounts each beneficiary was entitled to receive. The petition was prepared by Mr. Gary, and Mr. Gary obtained the relevant declarations necessary to aid the Court in interpreting the trust. After reviewing the terms of the Trust and the materials gathered by Mr. Gary in connection with the request for instructions, the Court gave the requested instructions and agreed with the interpretation suggested by Mr. Gary in his petition.

In the matter of the SIESSER PERSONAL RESIDENCE TRUST, Los Angeles County Superior Court No. VP013395

Cloud on Title to Residence Removed

Bruce J. Gary represented one of the owners of real property that had been owned in a Personal Residence Trust. After the trust had been established, the owners decided to refinance the residence and took title to the residence out of the trust and into their individual names because the lender would not lend to trustees. After the loan was obtained, the owners neglected to transfer the property back into the trust. Several years passed, and the Personal Residence Trust terminated at the end of its term. A deed was recorded from the trustee to the beneficiaries of the Personal Residence Trust. Subsequently, the owners discovered that legal title was still in the names of the trust settlors, who had never transferred the property back into the trust. In the meantime, one of the trust settlors had died, and it appeared that a probate of the deceased settlor’s estate might be necessary.

Mr. Gary successfully petitioned the Probate Court to quiet title to the real property, basing his arguments on equitable principles and upon the rule enunciated in Estate of Heggstad (1993) 16 Cal. App. 4th 943. At the conclusion of the matter, the Court confirmed that the beneficiaries of the Personal Residence Trust were in fact the owners of the real property.

In the matter involving JOHN DOE’s Residence

Cloud on Title to Residence Removed

Bruce J. Gary represented the owner of property in Fullerton, California. When the owner tried to take advantage of low interest rates on home loans, he discovered that several deeds to the property owned by the next door neighbor had mistakes in the legal description that created a string of wild deeds to the client’s home. These deeds created a cloud on title and lenders would not approve loans to the client.

Mr. Gary negotiated with the neighbor, escrow companies, and title insurance companies to obtain quitclaim deeds removing the cloud on title and obtaining damages for Mr. Gary’s client from the title insurance company which had made the initial error in the neighbor’s legal description.

In the matter of the GRACE A. FELTY LIVING TRUST, Orange County Case Number 30-2011-00470211-PR-TR-LJC

Clarification in Terms of Trust

Bruce J. Gary represented the successor trustee in obtaining clarification concerning the terms of the trust. The decedent had made handwritten interlineations and changes to the terms of the trust on the original Declaration of Trust to eliminate some of the distributions to family members.

Mr. Gary successfully petitioned the Probate Court for instructions under California Probate Code Section 17200. At the conclusion of the matter, the Court confirmed that handwritten changes were valid amendments to the terms of the trust.

Last Modified April 3, 2012