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Yet Another Reminder: Trusts Must Be “Funded” Properly

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APRIL 7, 2008  VOLUME 15, NUMBER 41

Quite often we see revocable living trusts fail because individuals do not understand the importance of changing ownership of assets to the trust. In most cases that means the unnecessary expense of a probate proceeding that could have been avoided. Sometimes the effects are more dramatic, as in a recent case decided by the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Warren Parker, Jr., bought real estate in the Phoenix area in 1983. He was married, but his wife Ruth Parker signed a “disclaimer deed” indicating that she made no claim to the property. Three years later Mr. Parker created a trust for his separate property, providing that on his death it would pass to his five children by his first wife. He also signed a deed transferring the property into the name of the trust.

A decade later he signed and recorded another deed transferring the property out of the trust and back into his own name individually. He never got around to moving the property back into the trust’s name, though when he died in 2004 his will left the property to the trust.

By that time Mrs. Parker was in a nursing home. She used Arizona’s summary probate proceeding for small parcels of real property to make the claim that she was the proper recipient of the real estate. She claimed, erroneously, that her husband had died without a will. Then she sold the property to a third party, who on the same day re-sold to yet another buyer.

Mr. Parker’s children cried foul. They filed his will and challenged Mrs. Parker’s sale, arguing that she had never owned any interest in the property and could not convey it. On the face of things, they were right — the proceedings transferring title to her could easily have been set aside. Unfortunately, the buyer had relied on her apparent ownership, and the courts (both trial and appellate) agreed that Mr. Parker’s children could not recover the property. Estate of Parker, Feb. 26, 2008.

Why would Mr. Parker have ever transferred the property out of the trust’s name and into his own name individually? The court opinion does not explain, but it would be reasonable to guess that he sought to place a mortgage on the property, or refinance an existing mortgage, and that the lender required the property to be in his own name. That happens too often, and the lender has no incentive to help the property owner to transfer the title back to the trust after the transaction is over.

Is the problem solved by Mr. Parker’s children bringing suit against their step-mother to recover the value of the property? It may be, and in fact they have filed such a suit. But remember that she is in a nursing home — it may well be that there are no assets to recover.

What does Mr. Parker’s experience teach us? At least two lessons: it is easy to undo even the carefully crafted estate plan, and beneficiaries are well advised to act quickly to protect their interests.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.