Date: June 24, 2015
ORANGE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY PUBLIC ADMINISTRATOR APPOINTED BY COURT TO REPLACE CARETAKER/TRUSTEE WHO DECEITFULLY CLAIMED ASSETS OF DECEASED WOMAN
SANTA ANA – The Orange County District Attorney – Public Administrator’s Office (OCDA – PA) was appointed to replace a trustee, who was disqualified by the Probate Court, a caretaker who used undue influence on a senior citizen to wrongfully place himself in charge of her assets and become beneficiary of her assets after her death.
The Orange County District Attorney was appointed the Orange County Public Administrator in 2014 by the Orange County Board of Supervisors, forming the OCDA – PA. The OCDA – PA protects the assets and manages the affairs of deceased residents of Orange County who at the time of death left no person available, willing or qualified to act to administer the estate or trust of a decedent. Most public administrator cases involve the public administrator acting to secure the assets of a decedent, represent the estate, and distributing property to the rightful heirs under law.
Background of the Case
In 2002, Anna Lou Horspool, who is now deceased and whose assets are the subject of the trust, was recovering from knee surgery at a care facility in Fullerton. Prior to the surgery, she lived independently in her home in Brea.
Brimah Vonjo met Horspool while he worked as a caregiver at the same facility. In June 2003, Horspool was discharged and returned to her home in Brea but needed physical assistance and care. She did not have any children and her husband was deceased. Horspool’s neighbors assisted her extensively when she returned home.
Shortly after Horspool was discharged from the facility, Vonjo began visiting her home. In September 2003, Horspool executed a trust document after talking with an attorney, Thomas W. Gillen, who represented Vonjo at trial. The terms of that trust named Vonjo as co-trustee and beneficiary of Horspool’s assets which included stocks and her home in Brea. Vonjo controlled Horspool’s financial affairs during her life as trustee, sold $170,000 worth of securities, and used the money for unknown personal expenses, and later was beneficiary of Horspool’s property after her death. Vonjo lived in a room in Horspool’s home and eventually had other family members move in. He isolated Horspool and told neighbors she no longer needed their assistance. When Horspool’s nephews called the home, Vonjo told them she was either out or unavailable.
On June 14, 2014, Horspool died of natural causes at 91 years old. The mortuary handling Horspool’s burial found that the Durable Power of Attorney from 2003 naming Vonjo was legally defective. The mortuary referred the matter to the OCDA – PA for investigation to locate next of kin.
The OCDA – PA investigated this case and filed a petition to remove Vonjo as the successor trustee and disqualify him as a beneficiary under Probate Code Section 21360 (Prohibited Transfers). Under that section, any trust that is executed within 90 days before or after a caregiving relationship is presumed to be the product of fraud or undue influence.
On June 22, 2014, following a 2-day trial, the Honorable Jamoa Moberly ruled that Horspool was entitled the protection of the Probate Code because she was a dependent adult. The court found that the trust that made Vonjo the beneficiary of Horspool’s assets was invalid because Vonjo was a care custodian during the 90-day period before or after the trust was executed and he would never have met Horspool had he not been employed with the care facility. The court removed Vonjo as successor trustee and beneficiary under the trust and appointed the OCDA – PA as successor trustee. Vonjo was ordered by the court to provide an accounting of expenditures from 2003 to 2014, while he was both caregiver and trustee for Horspool. The court ordered all assets be returned to the Public Administrator’s estate for distribution to the proper heirs under the rules of the Probate Code. The accounting hearing is scheduled Oct. 26, 2015.
Deputy Public Administrator Efrain Partida was the assigned Deputy in this case and Deputy County Counsel Joyce Riley litigated this matter on behalf of the Public Administrator. County Counsel represents the Public Administrator in court on all probate and trust litigation matters.